Thursday, April 8th, 2021
Vote on union
Are US workers taming the giant Amazon?
By Diana Dittmer
A small plant in the US state of Alabama could force the large global corporation to break new ground: a good 3,000 employees decide whether there will be employee representation in the future. A facility that the second largest employer in the US did not have for 27 years.
It will be exciting for Amazon: In the vote on the formation of an employee representative body, more than half of the 5800 employees at the location in the US state of Alabama cast their votes. The turnout is 55 percent, said the trade union for service providers in the wholesale and retail trade RWDSU. The counting of votes is expected to begin on Thursday afternoon (local time).
In the US, more than half of the workforce is required to vote in favor of union membership. So far, this has not worked at any of the company’s US locations, which employ around one million people in the US. If the warehouse workers at the Bessemer plant should vote in favor of employee representation, it would be the first US union at the world’s largest online retailer in the company’s 27-year history. According to the RWDSU union, Amazon has already questioned the accuracy of hundreds of ballot papers in the Alambama election.
Should the workers opt for employee representation, it would be particularly noteworthy that the impetus would come from a state in which the quota of union members is well below the national average. The vote could be groundbreaking: Amazon is the second largest employer in the USA after Wal-Mart. Co-determination has become increasingly obsolete in America over the past few decades. According to official information, around ten percent of the working population were still organized in trade unions last year. In 1983, when these figures were first collected, the proportion was almost twice as high.
If employees in Alabama vote for union representation, observers see an opportunity for a turnaround. If all 5,800 Bessemer employees were to organize themselves as one, the RWDSU union would have 32 percent more members. In 2020 it had 18,000 members.
Alabama can “develop radiance”
There are many reasons for bloodletting among unions in the United States: Organized workers are, in a sense, the enemies of Republicans. In addition, more and more US states have passed “right to work” laws against compulsory membership and contributions by workers to unions. Another reason is the attitude of many employees themselves. In competition on the labor market, many prefer to care for their own advancement than for social peace. Even the mass layoffs during the financial crisis since 2008 failed to shake belief in the dishwasher-to-billionaire story and reverse the trend.
For years, Amazon has repeatedly made negative headlines due to poor working conditions, strict production guidelines and low wages. The Bezos Group, on the other hand, boasts one of the highest wages in the industry, comprehensive fringe benefits from day one on the job, career opportunities and a safe and modern working environment. In fact, Amazon has raised its pay in the US significantly, but employees in the logistics centers in particular repeatedly complain about the high and grueling workload and alleged surveillance.
In autumn last year, a study attracted attention, which claims to have proven extensive monitoring measures to increase the productivity of employees. The formation of union groups would be prevented with the help of the findings from surveillance cameras, scanners or thermal imaging cameras, according to the study by the Open Markets Institute (OPI). The images would be evaluated, determined in which branch there was an increased risk of the formation of an employee interest group, and then the relevant employees would be transferred. Behind OPI is a group of journalists, researchers and lawyers who take action against cartels and monopoly-like structures.
At Verdi in Germany one looks hopefully at the conflict in Bessemer. The union expressly declared its solidarity with the editorial network Germany RND. “After all, it is about labor disputes in Amazon’s home country, the outcome of which can have global appeal,” said the head of the trade department, Orhan Akman.