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Labour groups close in on Amazon in tight union elections

NEW YORK (AP) – Labour organisers always knew it would be tough to convince Amazon workers to unionise. But a surprisingly strong early showing in a New York election and a still-uncertain outcome in an Alabama election are giving them hope.

In Staten Island, New York, 1,518 warehouse workers have so far voted “yes” to forming a union while 1,154 have voted “no”, according to an early tally on Thursday evening by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which is overseeing both elections. Ballots continued to be counted yesterday morning.

Meanwhile, Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, appear to have rejected a union bid but outstanding challenged ballots could change the outcome. The votes were 993-to-875 against the union. A hearing to review 416 challenged ballots is expected to begin in the next few days.

If a majority of Amazon workers ultimately votes yes in either Staten Island or Bessemer, it would mark the first successful United States (US) organising effort in the company’s history.

Organisers have faced an uphill battle against the nation’s second-largest private employer, which is making every effort to keep unions out.

Signs posted outside the Amazon fulfillment centre in Staten Island borough of New York at a bus stop. PHOTO: AP

After a crushing defeat last year in Bessemer, when a majority of workers voted against forming a union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) got a second chance to organise another campaign when the NLRB ordered a do-over after determining that Amazon tainted the first election.

Amazon has pushed back hard in the lead-up to both elections. The retail giant held mandatory meetings, where workers were told unions are a bad idea.

In a filing released on Thursday, Amazon disclosed it spent about USD4.2 million last year on labour consultants, which organisers said the retailer routinely solicits to persuade workers not to unionise.

Pro-union workers said they want better working conditions, longer breaks and higher wages. Full-time employees at the Bessemer facility earn at least USD15.80 an hour, higher than the estimated USD14.55 per hour on average in the city.

That figure is based on an analysis of the US Census Bureau’s annual median household income for Bessemer of USD30,284, which could include more than one worker.

Amazon workers there are seeking longer breaks, paid time off for injured employees and an hourly wage of USD30, up from a minimum of just over USD18 per hour offered by the company. The estimated average wage for the borough is USD41 per hour, according to a similar US Census Bureau analysis of Staten Island’s USD85,381 median household income.