July 23, 2024
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Amazon’s workers at UK warehouse to vote on union representation

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Amazon workers at a warehouse in Coventry will vote in a ballot that could force the company to negotiate with a union over its UK pay and conditions for the first time.

Officials from the GMB union, which has been campaigning for years to represent employees of the ecommerce giant, met workers on the company’s premises for the first time on Wednesday following a decision by the UK’s Central Arbitration Committee.

Both the GMB and Amazon’s management will hold meetings with small groups of workers over the next two weeks before employees vote on whether they want the union to represent them.

If the ballot passes — with at least 40 per cent of employees voting in favour — it will force Amazon to recognise a union and set up collective bargaining arrangements for the first time in Britain.

The Seattle-based company has for years drawn scrutiny about the way it treats its workers, while resisting attempts to organise by employees in both its home country and its international operations.

In February, its lobbyists were banned from entering the European parliament, after MEPs criticised the company for refusing to engage with them about workers’ rights and labour conditions.

“Amazon is one of the world’s most hostile and anti-union employers,” said Amanda Gearing, senior organiser at the GMB, accusing the company of “investing huge energy” to resist the recognition bid.

Paul Nowak, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress — the umbrella body for UK unions — said the vote was a “vital chance” for workers to secure “an independent voice” at a company that had been “allowed to get away with setting inhuman targets”.

The company is still fighting legal challenges to to 2022 vote by workers at its Staten Island warehouse in New York City, who became the first Amazon employees in the US to win union representation.

Although the vote was seen at the time as a breakthrough for the union movement, similar bids at other Amazon sites have since failed and the Amazon Labor Union, which won the 2022 Staten Island vote, does not yet have a contract with Amazon to negotiate on workers’ behalf.

But the company could now come under greater pressure in the US after the ALU’s members voted this week to affiliate with the larger and more established Teamsters union, bolstering its resources.

The Coventry ballot will involve more than 3,000 workers and will run for a week from July 8, with the result announced on July 15.

The GMB has accused Amazon of repeatedly attempting to frustrate the recognition bid through “union-busting” tactics, including by rapidly hiring more temps to work at the site so that the union no longer had enough members to win automatic recognition.

Amazon said the number of employees at the Coventry fulfilment centre had been constant for some time, with the company regularly recruiting new members to meet customer demand.

“Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union. They always have,” it said, adding that the company put “enormous value” on having a “direct relationship” with employees through daily conversations and engagement.

Minimum starting pay at the company had increased by 20 per cent over the past two years to £12.30 and £13 per hour, depending on the location, added the company.

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