Yesterday was the last day for Amazon workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, fulfillment facility to vote on whether they should unionize and be represented by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The outcome of that vote could have historic implications for the world’s largest e-commerce retailer. If successful, the Bessemer outcome could lead to other Amazon fulfillment centers voting to unionize as well, giving workers greater collective bargaining rights with the company.
Unfortunately, it could be a very long time before we know the results of the Bessemer vote. Here’s what you need to know:
- Why do Bessemer Amazon workers want to unionize? Because of a number of grievances, according to The Washington Post (which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos). Specifically, Bessemer workers say they are underpaid, have concerns about workplace safety, and even have grievances over the lack of bathroom breaks.
- When does Amazon union vote counting begin? Vote counting will begin at 10 a.m. local time today, Tuesday, March 30. It will take place at the offices of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Birmingham, Alabama.
- How many people were eligible to vote? Around 5,800 employees at the Bessemer Amazon facility were allowed to vote.
- How did workers vote? They voted by mail due to COVID-19 safety concerns. Amazon wanted the workers to vote in person.
- When will we know the Amazon union vote results? That’s complicated, but the RWDSU estimates vote counting will take at least a week. However, certain issues could prolong the time it takes to get a final result.
- What could prolong the Amazon union voting results? Both Amazon and the RWDSU have the right to challenge any vote. For example, either could argue that a particular ballot is invalid if not signed properly, or they could argue whether the worker who cast it was allowed to vote in the first place. Vote challenges could delay the results by days or weeks if the voting is close. But even then the final result could be delayed further—by weeks longer—if Amazon or the RWDSU challenges the results via the NLRB or even in court. If that’s the case, it could be a month or more until we know the final result.
- What happens if the workers win the vote to unionize? Even if that happens, the battle has only begun. If workers win the unionization vote, the RWDSU will then begin the arduous process of ratifying a new workers’ contract with Amazon. Just because workers won the unionization vote doesn’t mean Amazon would easily give in to any demands.
- How high are the stakes for Amazon? It could arguably be good for Amazon, as workers would likely have better rights and thus be happier. A happier worker is generally also more productive. However, a vote to unionize as the Bessemer facility could then embolden workers at other Amazon facilities to work to unionize, too. That’s the ultimate nightmare scenario for Amazon as unionized workers have much greater collective bargaining rights, which means they could force Amazon’s hand into treating them better and giving them better benefits. While morally the right thing to do, such changes could impact Amazon’s bottom line.
- What’s been Amazon’s official stance on this? About what you’d expect. Reached for comment, an Amazon spokesperson told Fast Company: “Our employees know the truth—starting wages of $15 or more, health care from day one, and a safe and inclusive workplace. We encouraged all of our employees to vote and hope they did so.”
This post has been updated with Amazon’s statement.