What happens inside a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, could have significant implications not just for the country’s second-largest employer but the labor movement at large.
Organizers are pushing for some 6,000 Amazon workers to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union on the promise that it will lead to better working conditions, better pay, and more respect. Amazon is pushing back, arguing that it already offers more than twice the minimum wage in Alabama. Workers get such benefits as health care, vision, and dental insurance without paying union dues.
The two sides are fully aware that it’s not just the Bessemer warehouse on the line. Organizers hope what happens there will inspire thousands of workers nationwide — and not just at Amazon — to consider unionizing and revive a labor movement that has been waning for decades.
“This is lighting a fuse, which I believe is going to spark an explosion of union organizing across the country, regardless of the results,” says RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum.
The union push could spread to other parts of Amazon and threaten the company’s profits, which soared 84% last year to $21 billion. When many companies were cutting jobs, Amazon was one of the few still hiring, bringing on board 500,000 people last year alone to keep up with a surge of online orders.
Bessemer workers finished casting their votes on Monday. The counting begins on Tuesday, which could take days or longer depending on how many votes are received and how long it takes for each side to review. The process is being overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, and a majority of the votes will decide the final outcome. What that outcome will be is anyone’s guess. Appelbaum thinks workers who voted early likely rejected the union because Amazon’s messaging got to them first. He says momentum changed in March as
organizers talked to more workers and heard from basketball players and high-profile officials, including President Joe Biden. For Amazon, which employs more than 950,000 full- and part-time workers in the U.S. and nearly 1.3 million worldwide, a union could lead to higher wages that would eat into its profits. Higher wages would also mean higher costs to get packages to shoppers’ doorsteps, which may prompt Amazon to raise prices, says Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.