Vote counting begins today in the historic effort to unionize Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, fulfillment center. The warehouse — which opened precisely a year ago to meet ramping up demand as COVID-19 bore down on the U.S. — has become ground zero for one of the most import labor efforts in modern American history. Voting began by mail on February 8, after Amazon repeatedly attempted to delay the vote or force workers to submit ballots in-person, despite pandemic restrictions. Things have gotten predictably heated in the days and weeks leading up to yesterday’s official deadline. Though even by the standards of Amazon’s aggressive public relations strategy, things went surprisingly far.
In particular, the e-commerce giant leveraged Twitter feeds as part of an aggressive anti-union strategy. The company simultaneously sought to bolster its image of existing working conditions while confronting progressive/leftist politicians like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who played a crucial role in pushing the company toward the $15/hour warehouse minimum wage it now celebrates.
According to reports, the company’s scorched-earth approach against Sanders and fellow New England Senator Elizabeth Warren was spurred on from the top. Founder Jeff Bezos — who will surrender his CEO position later this year — was said to have encouraged the offensive. Employees at the companies were said to have flagged the offending tweets internally for suspicious activity. Those tickets were reportedly closed.
After antagonist tweets and denying widespread and longstanding reports about Amazon workers peeing in bottles over fears of falling behind on quotas, Amazon News Twitter reverted to a more positive approach. It has, however, continued activity around the vote, including a bid to install video cameras for monitoring boxes carrying ballots — an offer the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has since rejected.
While the vote-counting kicks off today, don’t expect immediate results. The process is a systematic and deliberate one. Among other things, there are processes in place for either side to object. It’s clear from Amazon’s recent behavior that the company is well aware that this is far more consequential than the 6,000 or so workers currently employed by the Bessemer location. If the company prevails, it will position the decision as validation of its working conditions. If workers vote to unionize meanwhile, this could well start a chain reaction across the company.