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Amazon workers in Alabama to vote on union by mail starting in February

 Delivery vans leave an Amazon warehouse facility in Hawthorne.
Amazon, the second-largest employer in the nation behind Walmart, has largely avoided unions in the U.S.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Amazon.com Inc. workers at an Alabama warehouse will vote by mail in February and March on whether to form a union, the National Labor Relations Board said, setting a date for a closely watched referendum on the relationship between the largest online retailer and the employees who pack and ship its products.

A group of about 6,000 front-line employees at the fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., will decide whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the NLRB said Friday. Typically, such votes are held in person or at a location close to the workplace. Elections since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic have been conducted by mail.

Ballots will be mailed to eligible workers at the Bessemer facility on Feb. 8, and must be received by the NLRB’s regional office by March 29, the agency said in its decision.

Amazon, the second-largest U.S. employer, behind Walmart Inc., has largely avoided unions in its ranks, though some of its workers in Europe are members of labor groups. The vote is Amazon’s first in the U.S. since 2014, when a small group of technicians at a Delaware warehouse voted against joining the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

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Amazon said it disagreed with the NLRB’s decision. “We believe that the best approach to a valid, fair and successful election is one that is conducted manually, in-person,” spokesperson Heather Knox said in an email. “We will continue to insist on measures for a fair election, and we want everyone to vote, so our focus is ensuring that’s possible.”

Amazon had argued in hearings in December that despite the pandemic’s uncontrolled surge in Alabama, the vote should be held in person.

“Given the prevalence of asymptomatic transmission and the presence of Covid-19 both inside and outside the employer’s facility, the overall state of crisis in Jefferson County cannot be ignored,” the NLRB’s acting regional director wrote in Friday’s decision.

Amazon’s hundreds of thousands of U.S. warehouse workers found themselves in the spotlight in the last year as the pandemic sparked a surge in online shopping. Some workers criticized the company for what they said was a lack of safety measures amid outbreaks in several facilities. The company fired several workers who went public with such critiques.

Amazon, which went on a hiring spree to help meet the rush of orders, said it has worked to keep its employees safe. It has denied retaliating against workers and said the dismissed employees violated company policy.


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