Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Amazon.
- The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is pushing back on Amazon's expanding use of cashierless systems in grocery stores, calling the technology a threat to "good-paying jobs of essential workers."
- The UFCW also demanded an "independent investigation" after a federally overseen vote count that concluded Friday showed that workers at an Amazon plant in Bessemer, Alabama, had rejected an effort to get them to unionize.
- The union is pushing back on Amazon amid reports that the company is expanding its fleet of Fresh and Go grocery stores and testing its "Just Walk Out" cashierless system in a conventional-format Fresh store in London.
The UFCW's already-contentious relationship with Amazon appears to be deteriorating further as the e-commerce giant continues to step up its efforts to disrupt the grocery industry.
In a statement issued late Thursday, UFCW International President Marc Perrone linked the company's use of camera-based technology that allows shoppers to leave stores without encountering a cashier or self-checkout station to its treatment of workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
"At a time when millions of Americans are already struggling, when most Americans are one paycheck away from disaster, what does it say that Amazon wants to create stores that serve food and groceries and eliminate the jobs real people need?" Perrone said.
Amazon disputed the union's assertion. "These claims are incorrect and misleading. Since opening our first Amazon Fresh store last year, we've created thousands of new grocery jobs with great compensation and benefits, including our $15 starting wage — more than twice the federal minimum wage," an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.
The UFCW also said the expansion of Amazon's cashierless technology would discriminate against underbanked people and raise privacy concerns.
The UFCW issued the statement after news reports that Amazon has confirmed plans to open new grocery stores in the mid-Atlantic region, including in Washington, D.C.'s Logan Circle neighborhood and the city's suburbs of Chevy Chase, Maryland, and Franconia, Virginia. The retailer also confirmed it will open a grocery store in the Philadelphia suburb of Warrington, Pennsylvania. It did not specify the format of the stores, according to CNBC.
Amazon has been busy expanding its presence in the brick-and-mortar grocery space during the past year. It now operates 12 Fresh stores, which feature cashiers as well as the company's automated Dashcart grocery carts. Amazon also currently operates two automated Go Grocery stores, both in the Seattle area, in addition to several dozen Go convenience stores in Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco and New York.
The UFCW also said it was calling for a "full review of ballots" following a vote count showed that 71% of workers at Amazon's Bessemer had rejected a call for them to to organize as part of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is affiliated with the UFCW. The vote was questionable because it followed "union-busting tactics used by the company in the lead-up to the election," Perrone said in a statement the UFCW released on Friday.
In a statement posted on its website, Amazon denied using intimidation tactics during the vote and in the weeks leading up to it. "Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us," the company noted. "And Amazon didn't win — our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union."