A big reason Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has enjoyed so much success through the years is that the online retail giant has managed to make the process of shipping and distributing goods extremely efficient. And to pull that off, the company needs well-run warehouses and fulfillment centers.
But Amazon has also come under fire for the mistreatment of its warehouse workers. The company's poor working conditions were highlighted at the start of the pandemic, when online orders were coming in nonstop and warehouse workers struggled to keep up with rising demand. Despite the safety concerns that came with cramming warehouse employees together under a single roof during a major outbreak, Amazon put the pressure on -- and a lot of people got sick as a result.
Earlier this year, a group of warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, decided it was time to explore the idea of joining a union to better protect their rights and best interests. Not shockingly, Amazon did everything in its power to stop that from happening, including rolling out an extensive anti-union marketing campaign.
In April, Amazon workers in Bessemer ultimately voted against joining a union -- something the online giant no doubt celebrated. But that doesn't mean Amazon doesn't have to concern itself with unionizing efforts any longer. In fact, it may soon need to take on one of the biggest unions in the country.
Union contracts are still a possibility
In June, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters voted in favor of a resolution to help Amazon workers get onto a union contract. The resolution, dubbed the Amazon Project, would be fully funded by the Teamsters and would eventually include a special Amazon Division to aid workers in that category.
The Teamsters represent 1.4 million U.S. workers at present, including couriers and delivery workers and those who work in food and product distribution. In taking on Amazon, the Teamsters' goal is to get its warehouse workers under one sweeping contract, rather than unionize workers on a site-by-site basis.
Amazon has long argued that its workers don't need to unionize because they're already treated fairly and paid generously. And there's some truth to the latter point. Amazon does offer warehouse workers a minimum starting pay of $15 per hour, which is well above the federal minimum wage, and the company is also known to offer a decent range of benefits, including dental and medical care. Still, unionizing workers could lead to better safety protocols in warehouses -- something Amazon's critics say it lacks. And frankly, that would be a good thing for the entire industrial REIT (real estate investment trust) sector.
Of course, Amazon would much prefer to retain full control over its warehouse and fulfillment center employees, and so we can bet it'll do everything it can to shut down the Teamsters' latest initiative. But the fact that unionizing is back on the table may, at the very least, get Amazon to rethink some of its current practices -- and perhaps find ways to make working conditions at its warehouses more tolerable for the employees who spent their days hustling to pump out orders.