The historical voting of the Amazon employees

In America, the online retailer Amazon could get its first union. That even calls the president to the scene. But the company is resisting it with all its might.

Protest: Protesters in Los Angeles show solidarity with Amazon employees in the state of Alabama.

Dhe Amazon employees in a distribution center in the American state of Alabama could make history: On Monday, a vote on the formation of a union at the site, where around 5,800 people work, ended. It would be the online retailer’s first union in its home market since it was founded almost 27 years ago. Its historical significance has drawn attention across the country. President Joe Biden has signaled that he supports the formation of a union, Senator Bernie Sanders, a longtime critic of Amazon, traveled to Alabama on Friday. The group itself opposes the plan and has launched an aggressive campaign to encourage its employees to vote against a union.

According to observers, a vote for a union in Alabama could be groundbreaking, and workers in other Amazon camps have apparently also expressed an interest in organizing. It would generally be a welcome boost of energy for unions in America after decades of losing their meaning. Last year, according to government figures, only a little more than ten percent of the working population were organized in trade unions; in 1983, when these figures were first collected, the proportion was almost twice too high.

$ 15 an hour

Of course, there have been other successes in recent times. At the beginning of the year, employees of the Alphabet Holding around the Internet company Google announced the establishment of a union. As the second largest private employer in America, Amazon would be an even bigger success behind its competitor Walmart. If the first Amazon union were formed in Alabama, of all places, it would be remarkable because the southern American states are traditionally considered to be anti-union territory. This fact has made them attractive to many companies, including German car manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW, which operate plants here.

It should take a few days for the result in Alabama to be determined; the counting follows a complicated process. The outcome is considered open. In a previous step, more than 3,000 employees signaled support for a union with their signature, but this does not necessarily allow conclusions to be drawn about the final result. In the event of a positive vote, Amazon employees would join the American trade union RWDSU.

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Efforts to form a union in Alabama have to do with workforce dissatisfaction with working conditions, such as strict productivity targets. The employees also hope that the union can push through higher wages. Amazon itself counters this by paying its employees well. The corporation raised its minimum wage in America to $ 15 an hour a little over two years ago, more than double the US state floor. This step was preceded by political pressure, including from Sanders. Since then, Amazon has also been committed to raising the national minimum wage. In its campaign against the union on a specially launched website, the online retailer argues that given good pay, its employees have no reason to pay union dues of $ 500. He has also messed with some politicians in an unusually aggressive manner in the past few days. After Sanders asked on Twitter why Amazon boss Jeff Bezos was putting so much money into an anti-union campaign, an Amazon manager countered that the senator should save himself “lessons with the index finger” as long as he was not in his own state of Vermont enforce a higher minimum wage.

Amazon’s official Twitter account also replied to Congressman Mark Pocan, who tweeted reports that drivers delivering Amazon parcels urinate in bottles because of Amazon’s time pressure making it difficult for them to go to public toilets. Amazon tweeted that the politician probably doesn’t believe this himself, because then nobody would want to work for the company. A little later, however, the online publication “The Intercept” published a document that gave the impression that Amazon management was well aware that its drivers use such bottles.

In Germany, the relationship between Amazon and unions is just as strained as in America, but the German legal situation on occupational safety prevents many things that are common in America. There have been no reports of pee bottles here, for example, and Amazon cannot keep the responsible trade union Verdi away from the company. However, the shipping giant has been successful for years at opposing a collective agreement. The strikes that Verdi regularly calls for at Easter or Christmas do not really hurt the group. This is also evident now, since Monday around 2000 German Amazon employees have been on strike in six distribution centers, according to Verdi. The company replies that more than 90 percent of employees still work normally – and both sides are right. As long as Verdi does not succeed in significantly increasing its participation in the strike, the conflict is likely to remain stalled for the time being.