Between 8 February and 29 March, Amazon workers will be voting in the much-talked-about union election to decide whether the Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union (RWDSU) would represent them. Almost 6.000 Amazon workers are expected to vote on whether to form or not the company’s first unionized warehouse in the United States of America.
And just as the Amazon election in Bessemer, Alabama begins to ignite, so do Amazon’s efforts in stopping the forming of the union. Joining a labor union would offer Amazon employees a better chance of improving the warehouse working conditions as well as adequate salaries in a company that is notorious for overworking its staff.
From sending text messages to workers and forcing employees to attend anti-union meetings despite the company’s own social distancing policy, to subtle threats of closing the warehouse if a union is formed, Amazon appears to have stopped at nothing to discourage its staff.
In fact, it even went one step further. The tech giant has recently sent an email to its workers, offering no less than $2,000 in “bonuses” if they decide to submit their resignations before the union election. Those who have worked for 2 peak seasons are eligible for $2.000 in “resignation bonuses” while workers who have been hired for at least 3 peak seasons are being offered $3.000.
Nevertheless, Amazon’s methods of attempting to discourage a union vote are not something new. Union representation elections that are overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) bear the brunt of both legal and illegal aggressive anti-union tactics that are deployed by a vast majority of employers. A report conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Urban Economic Development (CUED) and commissioned by American Rights at Work shows worrying numbers: 30% of employers fire their pro-union workers, 49% threaten to close a worksite when workers try to form a union, 51% coerce workers into opposing unions with bribery or favoritism while 82% hire anti-union consultants.
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However, these tactics could backfire on the tech company, since union supporters can easily argue that if Amazon can so easily afford to pay such “resignation bonuses” to its workers, then it can just as easily pay more for their salaries.
“That should be illegal, how can you pay someone to resign,” says 48-year-old Amazon worker Jennifer Bates. “They are going all the way, they are pulling out all the stops. If you know that they need it, why don’t you give it to them anyway as a bonus.”
University of Wyoming Labor Law Professor Mike Duff, who is widely considered a national expert on workers’ compensation law as well as on the National Labor Relations Act, confirms that Amazon’s attempt at a bribe in the form of bonuses is not a unique case.
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“The NLRB routinely finds violations for ‘conferring benefits’ to induce employees not to vote for a union during the “critical period” between the time the election petition is filed and the election is held,” says Mike Duff who is also a former prosecutor for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The ballots are due on 29 March with the count beginning on 30 March. This marks Amazon’s first unionization vote in years, ever since 2014 when an equipment maintenance and repair technician group in Delaware voted 21 to 6 against unionizing and joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).