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Amazon and labor organizers trade barbs as Alabama union vote ends

If they decide to form a union, it would be the first in Amazon's history. The tally of the mail-in ballots is expected to take several days.

BESSEMER, Ala. — Amazon employees in Alabama could alter the way the Seattle-based company does its business. A group of 6,000 Alabama fulfillment center employees had until Monday to cast mail-in ballots to vote on a proposal to unionize their Bessemer distribution center, amidst complaints about working conditions.

If the workers decide to form a union, it would be the first in Amazon's history. It will take several days to count all the ballots and determine the results. The effort in Alabama is being organized by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

Pro-union backers see the vote in Alabama as a litmus test of sorts, and that a successful tally could cause more labor organizing at other spots across the country.

Amazon has spent big money on a campaign to highlight its $15 an hour starting wage and suggested take-home pay would be impacted by union dues.

Amazon on Monday said that it does not believe the union represents the views of its employees.

“RWDSU membership has been declining for the last two decades, but that is not justification for its president Stuart Appelbaum to misrepresent the facts. Our employees know the truth—starting wages of $15 or more, health care from day one, and a safe and inclusive workplace. We encouraged all of our employees to vote and hope they did so.”

Katie Garrow, deputy director of the King County Labor Council, said the workers' demands are a matter of fairness.

"Amazon can afford to pay $25 an hour. The reality is this company is generating billions of dollars of profit off of these workers' labor, and they deserve a cut," Garrow said.

Garrow said a successful effort in Alabama could inspire workers in Kent and Renton.

"We don't have to cower to threats (from) Amazon," she said.

A Recode story on Sunday also suggested that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has been personally involved in a social media campaign to take on critics, like Senator Bernie Sanders, who recently led a rally of Amazon employees.

The Intercept reported that Amazon's online barbs on its official social media were so snarky, that the company's own employees reported the tweets to security, fearing that hackers were responsible.

A crowd in Seattle also gathered on the Amazon Campus in South Lake Union on Friday to rally in solidarity with the workers in Alabama.

In a statement last week, Amazon said it, "already offers what these groups are requesting: industry-leading pay, comprehensive benefits from the first day on the job, opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern, and inclusive work environment. At Amazon, these benefits and opportunities come with the job, as does the ability to communicate directly with the leadership of the company."