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Amazon is fighting a union drive in Alabama. In Europe, its workers are already unionized.

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Amazon is fighting a union drive in Alabama. In Europe, its workers are already unionized.

Amazon and warehouse workers in Bessemer, Ala., are locked in the final week of a contentious effort to love a union, drawing national attention. Some analysts have cast the battle as a conceivable inflection point for the company and the U.S. labor drag.

But while an Amazon union in Alabama would symbolize a major victory for U.S. labor, the e-commerce titan wouldn’t be on uncharted ground. Amazon already has a large unionized staff — exact now not in the United States. In countries including France, Italy, Spain and Germany, the place union membership is far more widespread and barriers to entry are substantially lower, Amazon works have long been unionized.

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(Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

While the leaders of the Bessemer drive to win their election have to convince more than half of their colleagues who vote in the election to enhance the union, that wouldn’t be necessary in many European countries. There, unions can gain a toehold even supposing easiest a fraction of staff at a given company are members. One major exception is Britain, the place Amazon workers are now not represented by a union, and labor laws are more comparable to those in the United States.

The presence of sturdy unions in Amazon’s international staff hasn’t stopped the company from expanding into countries that it sees as lucrative unusual markets. But that doesn’t mean the company’s relationship with unions hasn’t been fraught.

Amazon has been unwilling to take a seat down with workers and negotiate pay and prerequisites, which makes it an “outlier” for Europe, said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of the UNI Global Union, which represents roughly 20 million service sector workers worldwide.

“Their attitude is, ‘We’re now not going to halt anything unless we’re forced to,’” Hoffman said.

In many European countries, Amazon workers are covered by collective-bargaining agreements that apply to total sectors of the economic system — meaning Amazon has to meet certain minimum standards that apply to all e-commerce companies or all retailers.

Major corporations have typically been willing to negotiate with unions and like company-particular agreements that scramble above and beyond those minimum requirements. That’s now not the case with Amazon, Hoffman said. Legally, the e-commerce giant isn’t obligated to halt so: International locations such as Germany and Italy don’t require companies to enter companywide collective bargaining agreements because “that’s exact what employers halt.”

Instead, Amazon workers across Europe have resorted to going on strike to demand changes — especially during the past year, as the coronavirus pandemic has pushed safety issues to the forefront.

One in all the most dramatic showdowns took place in France last spring as online purchases surged during lockdown. After workers expressed issues about the lack of social distancing inside the company’s warehouses and staged a walkout, unions successfully sued, and Amazon was banned from shipping nonessential products.

Amazon took issue with the French court docket’s ruling, which stated the company had “failed to acknowledge its obligations regarding the safety and health of its workers.” Nevertheless it ultimately agreed to negotiate with the unions and reached a deal that allowed warehouses to reopen after a month.

Single-day strikes have also called attention to the grueling pace of work for Amazon warehouse workers and supply drivers. On Monday, Italy witnessed its first nationwide strike involving Amazon’s total logistics division, including third-party contractors. While union officials estimated that as many as three-quarters of all workers hadn’t reported to their jobs, Amazon said the total was closer to 10 percent of the company’s 9,500 employee in the country and 20 percent of third-party contractors.

Amazon has disputed the notion that it adheres to easiest the minimum requirements status out in sector collective-bargaining agreements, noting its starting wage in Italy is roughly 7 percent better than what’s required. The company argues that its large staff is proof that many americans are eager to work for Amazon and take advantage of benefits such as tuition repayment.

While Amazon respects staff’ decisions to be part of a union, spokesman Stuart Jackson wrote in a statement, “the fact is, we already provide dazzling pay, dazzling benefits and dazzling opportunities for career increase, all while working in a safe, contemporary work atmosphere. The unions know this.”

But union advocates say Amazon demands a dehumanizing pace of work, putting staff below intense mental and physical stress. Given that the company has reaped substantial profits during the pandemic, many want to witness that translate to better pay for workers who have continued to beget orders all by means of the crisis.

Amazon executives have long resisted unions over fears that the company may find itself hamstrung by workplace rules that may limit technical innovations such as the usage of robots, extinct company managers have said. Amazon brass also fear that unionization may sluggish their expansion plans, forcing the company to negotiate the phrases of hiring and laying off staff, as well as the series of temporary workers it may take on, a extinct executive instructed The Post.

Even with widespread unionization in Europe, though, Amazon has expanded dramatically, building out operations in countries such as German, Spain, Italy and France, the place organized labor remains embedded in the tradition.

But the general public health crisis and Amazon’s rapid hiring of warehouse staff to handle pandemic-fueled online shopping, have led workers to challenge the company. Even before the Bessemer union drive, teams of workers protested originate air Amazon warehouse and shipping facilities in New York, Michigan and Illinois last year to demand safer working prerequisites. Those protests followed similar actions from Amazon workers in Italy and Spain.

Amazon’s opposition to the Bessemer union has extra galvanized workers in Europe, who have been disturbed by some of the anti-union tactics the company is employing in Alabama, Hoffman said.

“Let’s hope that this marks the tip of that kind of behavior,” she said. “It’s been shocking that it goes on in the United States.”

Jay Inexperienced contributed to this characterize.

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Amazon is fighting a union drive in Alabama. In Europe, its workers are already unionized.