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Amazon changed traffic light timing during union drive, county officials say

Amazon changed traffic light timing during union drive, county officials say


Organizers say the change made union efforts harder

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

As part of its ongoing fight over an Alabama warehouse’s efforts to unionize, Amazon reportedly changed the timing of a traffic light outside the warehouse, according to reporting by More Perfect Union. Union organizers at the site had previously accused the company of altering the timing so that pro-union workers would not be able to canvass workers while stopped at the light.

Until recently, the altered timing on the traffic light outside the factory had been dismissed as a rumor. But More Perfect Union confirmed with Jefferson County officials that last year, Amazon notified the county of traffic delays during shift changes and asked for the light to be changed. On December 15th, the county increased the green light duration in an effort to clear workers off the worksite faster. There’s no indication that the county was aware of the ongoing organizing drive or any effect the traffic light changes might have on the effort.

Workers at the Bessemer warehouse began their union election on February 8th, seeking to form a union under the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) after months of organizing. Amazon has vigorously contested the effort, posting anti-unionization flyers throughout the factory, most noticeably in the bathroom. In advance of the official vote, workers also received a flood from Amazon warning of potentially negative consequences from unionization.

“I have never seen Amazon fight for something like this,” one longtime Amazon employee told The Verge previously, describing the flood of anti-union messaging. “I have never seen them try to push for something this hard before.”

The traffic light is significant for organizers because of the significant rules about how and where organizers can approach employees under US labor law. Employers like Amazon retain the right to restrict non-work conversations, and non-employees are generally not allowed on the worksite during shift hours. As a result, liminal spaces like the public street outside the worksite are often important venues for organizers seeking to raise awareness about a union drive.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Correction: This article originally misstated the name of the RWDSU as the Retail, Warehouse and Department Store Union — in fact, it is the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The Verge regrets the error.