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Amazon must not interfere with US union effort, say investors

Amazon should stop interfering with efforts by its workers to unionise ahead of a pivotal vote in Alabama, said a group of more than 70 of its investors.

Mail-in balloting began this week among more than 5,800 employees in Bessemer, a suburb of Birmingham, marking the first attempt by US-based Amazon workers to vote for union representation.

But an anti-union campaign has been waged through posters, flurries of text messages and compulsory meetings during working hours. A website has been set up to advise workers that unionisation would mean “it won’t be easy to be as helpful and social with each other”.

The Amazon investors, led by the Swedish groups Folksam and Ohman Fonder, collectively control more than $20bn in shares and also include the comptrollers for both New York State and New York City, Legal and General Investment Management, BMO Global Asset Management and the Church of England Pensions Board.

In a letter, they called upon Amazon to end its union-busting and remain “neutral”. They added that Amazon appears to be going against the tenor of its own Global Human Rights Principles, published on the company’s website, which states it respected “employees’ right to join, form, or not to join a labor union or other lawful organisation of their own selection, without fear of reprisal, intimidation, or harassment”.

Scott Stringer, New York City comptroller, said: “As these workers seek to organise with [the union] for health, safety, and protection, Amazon’s investors are watching. We want workers to know we have their backs. There is power in their unity and power in labour, and they have my full support as they fight for a safe, fair workplace.”

A successful vote would see workers at the facility join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which has pledged to focus on grievances that include packing quotas, workplace safety and time allowed for bathroom breaks. In Europe, Amazon facilities with union-backed workforces were able to stand down with full pay during the early stages of the Covid-19 crisis.

In a statement, Amazon said it was following the rules set out by the National Labor Relations Board.

An anti-union notice on a bathroom wall in Amazon’s facility in Bessemer, Alabama

“We have provided education that helps employees understand the facts of joining a union,” Amazon said. “If the union vote passes, it will impact everyone at the site and it’s important associates understand what that means for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon.”

Last month, when it was announced the vote was to go ahead, Amazon launched a website — DoItWithoutDues.com — that listed what it considered the downsides of joining a union.

As well as linking to a document detailing the salaries of local union representatives, the site included messages such as “An authorization card or online form is LEGALLY BINDING and may obligate you to PAY monthly dues immediately from YOUR PAYCHECK” and “WHY NOT save the money and get the books, gifts & things you want? DO IT without dues!”.

Last week, the NLRB rejected Amazon’s request to both delay the vote and move to voting at a booth. In order for the union vote to pass, backers need to attract 50 per cent, plus one, of the returned votes. Voting closes on March 29.

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