- Amazon's warehouse in an Alabama town is undergoing a historic union vote.
- Workers are split, and Insider spoke to two employees about why they're against joining the union.
- If the vote passes this week, it would be the first Amazon warehouse to unionize in the US.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
Cori Jennings started working at Alabama's Bessemer warehouse after leaving a job in the food industry. She was surprised at how much she enjoyed her work on what Amazon Fulfillment Center employees call "the sort side," scanning and sorting boxes on the warehouse floor.
"I love it, I really do," Jennings told Insider.
She works 10 hours a day, 4 days a week, and touted Amazon's benefits and her relationship with her manager as top reasons that she's a fan of the job.
But Jennings' workplace has come under unprecedented national scrutiny as it hosts a historic union vote - one that Jennings and another employee told Insider they do not support.
The Bessemer warehouse has seen a visit from Sen. Bernie Sanders, national media attention, and divisions over whether or not to unionize. Jennings and other employees who say they are against the union or on the fence say that Amazon already provides everything a union would. Amazon has also made this argument.
These divisions are coming to a head this week as voting closes on March 29 and the National Labor Review Board begins tabulating ballots. To pass, 50% plus one vote is needed out of respondents.
The RWDSU's director of communications, Chelsea Connor, said that the union doesn't release its bargaining terms in advance, but workers have been vocal about the "time off task" system, which marks the time they are away from their stations, as well wanting to improve working conditions. Workers who are pushing for the union also say that they want better job security.
Jennings sent in her ballot almost as soon as she got it, she said. She followed Amazon's advice and voted no.
"Because when it comes to collective bargaining, what do you think the first thing Amazon's going to start pulling is?" she said to Insider. "All this free time off and our benefits."
Thomas Eady, a former coal miner who has worked in unionized industries before, also voted no.
He said in messages to Insider that he used to be "a huge pro-union person," but that his time working for unions made him believe that his work ethic didn't matter and that unions would value seniority over everything.
Eady said he didn't believe unions could adequately protect against termination. "They can only act like a middle man," he said.
In the past, Eady worked for a foundry union and a coal mine union. He said he saw unions as "just collecting money and overpaying themselves."He works as a stower at Amazon, the same role as Jennings. Eady said that, in terms of union activity in Bessemer, he felt like more union members from other towns and industries came to pro-union rallies and events than actual employees working in Bessemer.
"I haven't really seen that many people who support the union" at the fulfillment center, he said.
Eady also cited Amazon's "decent pay and benefits" as another reason why he voted against the union.
Jennings agreed. "I think we make really good money for what we do," she said.
Both Eady and Jennings said they believe that, if a union vote passes, the union will negotiate for a pay raise. However, neither worker found that prospect enticing: Jennings said that she worries the pay raise would go right back into paying union dues, and Eady said that he sees union leaders as people making six-figure salaries off the backs of workers.
Workers fear change
Jennings said she worries that if the union vote passes, it will affect morale and perks. She is also concerned about the RWDSU opposing Amazon workers' at-will status.
Connor, the union communications head for the RWDSU, said that unions are fundamentally dedicated to opposing at-will employment status. The RWDSU, and any union, she said, wants to introduce grievance processes and ways for employees to seek remediation if they feel they have been unfairly terminated.
But Jennings said she enjoys the mobility and freedom of working at-will, and feels confident that if she's on management's radar, it's for a good reason and not because they want to terminate her.
The Intercept reported last week that in terms of union support, some in Bessemer see a generational gap. The publication spoke to one worker who was on the fence, identified as Jason, who is 20 years old and also works in stow. The Intercept reported that a barrage of information from Amazon's corporate offices as well as the union and its allies have left some younger workers, those with less of a grasp on the history of American labor movements, unsure about how to vote.
"In my opinion," Jason told The Intercept in the article published March 23, "no one around my age in the building has a clear-cut answer of how they're going to decide."
The Huffington Post's Dave Jamieson posted a video on Twitter on Monday showing an unnamed process assistant in the Bessemer fulfillment center saying that she is against the union because voting for it would make it more difficult to "discipline" other workers without union reps who she sees as interfering. Jamieson explained that process assistants are technically workers, but that they are seen by many floor staff as closer to management.
-Dave Jamieson (@jamieson) March 29, 2021
Jennings also has some issues specifically with the RWDSU, saying that she's worried it could fine people for crossing picket lines. But, she said, if the union vote passes and she doesn't agree with the reason to strike, she'll just go to work.
"Because at the end of the day, I still have a mortgage," she said. "I still have a car payment. I still have three kids."
Connor, the union communications head, responded that this rhetoric is a "scare tactic" from Amazon. She said that, in living memory, no RWDSU facility has fined a worker for crossing picket lines. There are hundreds of local constitutions, so there is a possibility that one of them contains a provision to that effect, but she said she's never seen it applied.
Jennings said she's already begun looking into ways to suspend the union if the vote passes. But, she also said, this may be a sign for her to leave Amazon and start a business she's been thinking about for years.
"I just don't think I can work for this union," she said. She comes from a union town, and many of her family members are unionized mine-workers. But she doesn't think Amazon needs a union in order for her to like her job.
"Amazon is really pushing the anti-union thing a little too hard," with its constant messaging to workers, Eady added. "But so is the RWDSU."