Amazon workers vote on union (UPDATED)

CHATTANOOGA, TN - JULY 30:  President Obama makes a speech about the economy and jobs at an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee on July 30, 2013.  Amazon announced this week that it expected to have 7,000 job openings across the country.  (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Update: Reports late Wednesday say Amazon workers voted 21-6 against forming a union. Original story follows below

A group of Amazon warehouse workers in Delaware will decide Wednesday on whether to create a union. The vote covers just a tiny sub-set of the retail giant’s workforce but has heavy symbolic significance at a time when Amazon faces ongoing criticism over its labor practices.

The vote comes after the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers filed a petition on December 6 on behalf of  30 equipment maintenance and repair technicians in Middletown, Delaware. If a majority of the workers vote in favor, it will be the first Amazon union shop in the U.S.

According to a union official quoted by Re/code, the company has been leaning on the workers in “captive audience meetings” to vote no. The official also stated that the workers’ primary concern is not wages but rather workplace issues like safety and promotion rules. Amazon, in a statement, expressed its opposition to the union.

“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,” the statement read in part.

Amazon, which is opening warehouses in a growing number of states, has faced an ongoing series of negative press stories about its treatment of workers. These include a local paper’s  expose of employees collapsing in 100 degree heat, and first person accounts shared on sites like Reddit from the “pickers” who race around to fulfill customer orders. Amazon was also the subject of a critical BBC investigation in November. (Update: An Amazon spokesperson stated by email that the company retrofitted its warehouses in 2012 add air conditioning, and that its pay is higher than other retail employers.)

For Amazon, which now has over 113,000 employees in America, the union pressure comes at a time when it continues to focus on growth over profit; in three of the last four quarters for which it reported earnings, the company lost money even as its revenues continues to soar.

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