Amazon has a message for its workers: if you want to unionise so badly, you’ll need to risk catching the coronavirus to do it.
That’s according to an appeal the e-commerce giant filed with the National Labour Relations Board on Thursday arguing against the board’s decision to give Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse workers the next two months to vote on their potential unionisation by mail. Instead, Amazon asked to postpone the vote so the Board can take time to “reconsider” its decision and possibly allow the online retailer to force an in-person vote despite the obvious health hazards.
Just to recap how we got here: in November, a group of 5,700 workers in Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama filed a petition with the NLRB for permission to hold a vote on whether workers would like to be recognised by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. As you might expect, Amazon wasn’t pleased with the whole idea, but that didn’t stop the board from giving those workers a green light earlier this month. While these sorts of votes are usually held in person, the ongoing pandemic pushed the move to start a mail-in voting campaign in February.
I think we can agree that’s the best move. Alabama kicked off 2021 with an explosion of new coronavirus cases across the state that saw more than 4,000 new cases a day added during its peak. While the pace has cooled down to an average of roughly 2,600 per day, that’s still 2,600 cases per day. People are still dying. In Jefferson County — where the Bessemer warehouse is based — there’s still an average of nearly 400 new cases and 10 new deaths per day. And data compiled by the New York Times predicts that the daily death count could continue to climb, even as cases drop.
But as the company pointed out, the covid-19 case numbers that the board referenced in its decision to move to mail-in votes were numbers from Jefferson County as a whole. Instead, Amazon insisted they only count cases from within the warehouses themselves. The NLRB’s argument that Amazon’s workers could, say, inadvertently catch the virus on one of their many, many commutes is just an attempt to “cherry-pick whatever statistics make a manual election look riskier,” the company said.
Amazon added that the risks that come with a mail-in ballot — voter fraud, potential coercion, and restrictions on “employers’ free speech rights” and the company’s ability to communicate its views with the voting base — far outweighed these supposedly inane concerns.
“[The Board] deemed a mail-ballot-only election the ‘safest’ approach, not based on the record, but based on speculation and conjecture,” Amazon said, conveniently forgetting its own record with handling its workers’ safety since the start of the pandemic.
Here’s a refresher: in October, Amazon reported that over 19,800 of its frontline Amazon and Whole Foods workers had either tested or were presumed to be covid-positive. The company was sued this past summer when one of those workers brought the virus home and ended up giving her cousin a fatal case. In October, the company was hit with another suit alleging that the 2020 Prime Day rush caused Amazon to abandon its own safety precautions. The OSHA database for coronavirus complaints still sees a steady trickle of grievances lobbed at Amazon every month.
When asked for comment, an Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo that it continues to “insist on measures for a fair election, and we want everyone to vote, so our focus is ensuring that’s possible.” Apparently, ensuring their safety isn’t the biggest factor.