Organized labor may be coming to an Amazon warehouse in Delaware

amazon-fullIn a potential milestone for organized labor, a group of 30 equipment maintenance technicians at Amazon’s Middletown, Del. fulfillment center will be given the ability to vote on whether they want representation by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), now that the Department of Labor has approved a petition requesting the vote.

That’s according to a report by Brad Stone in Bloomberg Businessweek. The report says that the vote will be held in a conference room at the warehouse on Jan. 15, and if the vote passes, only the 30 technicians out of the more than 1,500 people employed there will be represented by the union. Still, the passage of that vote could be seen as a chink in Amazon’s otherwise fierce anti-labor armor.

Amazon, for its part, says that it thinks it provides a fair deal for workers, including good benefits and a fair open-door policy for addressing employee concerns, without union representation.

“We respect the individual rights of our associates and have an open-door policy that allows and encourages associates to bring their comments, questions and concerns directly to their management teams.  We firmly believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce and do not believe there is a need for third-party representation,” Amazon spokesperson Mary Osako said in an email.

Still, reports have called Amazon’s practices at its fulfillment centers into question, though the company has always aggressively defended itself against such allegations.

The news comes as representatives from Germany’s Ver.di spent yesterday protesting outside of Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle over what the union considers to be unfair labor practices at Amazon’s German warehouses. Union members in Germany have been striking for the past two days over a pay dispute.

Here is Amazon’s comment in full:

They are seeking to represent a small group of 30 equipment maintenance and repair technicians in our Middletown facility — it does not impact the core operations of the facility.  To note, we have more than 1,500 full-time employees at this site. We respect the individual rights of our associates and have an open-door policy that allows and encourages associates to bring their comments, questions and concerns directly to their management teams.  We firmly believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce and do not believe there is a need for third-party representation. Amazon’s culture and business model are based on rapid innovation, flexibility and open lines of direct communication between managers and associates. We are committed to providing not just highly competitive wages and comprehensive benefits, but also a network of support to ensure our employees succeed. In addition to highly competitive wages, comprehensive benefits on day one, bonuses and stock awards, we offer innovative benefits such as the Career Choice Program where we pre-pay 95% of tuition fees so associates can pursue their aspirations whether at Amazon or elsewhere.

UPDATE: IAMAW spokesperson John Carr had this to say when asked if Amazon’s policies as outlined were a fair shake for workers:

So called “open door policies” are usually one sided, sure an employee(s) can share a concern but it often stops right there. The door was open, you said your part, and that same door often closes behind you, with no resolution or “fix” to the problems or concerns brought to management’s attention. These often range from fairness issues, application of policy, individual treatment or far more serious such as safety concerns including potential hazards.

That in itself (open door vs a legally binding contract) is the chief complaint from the group of technicians that contacted the IAMAW seeking assistance in forming a union at their workplace. This particular group of workers is not making wages or benefits their key issue.

A “fair shake” as it was referred to – certainly in the eyes of the company, I’m sure! The company determines what constitutes that fair shake, and if the employee doesn’t agree, that’s it – no recourse. That too is at heart of the complaints from these Technicians. A fair shake for one person today, may not be the same fair shake for another tomorrow. No consistency, no polices set forth in writing, and all determined by the whims of management on any given day.