SEATTLE (Reuters) - A small group of Amazon.com Inc technicians at a distribution center in Delaware are voting Wednesday whether to join a union to push for better benefits and safety rules.
The results of the vote, expected around 7 p.m. local time, could be a thorn in the side of the world's biggest online retailer, which is strongly opposed to its staff forming unions and has recently had trouble with striking German workers.
Around 30 technicians are voting on whether to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). A 'yes' vote, requiring a simple majority of those who cast a ballot, would mean the first union organization of Amazon employees in the United States.
It does not affect the vast majority of the 1,500 or so packers and shippers who work at the facility, one of more than 40 distribution centers in the United States.
Amazon has consistently argued against any sort of union representation for employees.
"We respect the individual rights of our associates and have an open-door policy that allows and encourages associates to bring their comments, questions and concerns directly to their management teams," said Mary Osako, an Amazon spokeswoman, in an emailed statement.
"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."
John Carr, a representative of the IAM, said he expected results of the vote late on Wednesday.
Like its brick and mortar rival Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Seattle-based Amazon discourages any kind of union activity at its operations. In turn, labor groups are making efforts to organize in the retail sector.
A group of current and former Walmart employees calling themselves the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) has campaigned for better wages, hours and benefits. It does not define itself as a union, but its members pay $5 monthly dues and it is part of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
Amazon has not so far faced such pressure in the United States, but late last year more than 1,000 of its workers in Germany went on strike as part of a long-running pay dispute and vow to continue industrial action this year.
A group of union activists traveled from Germany to protest outside Amazon's headquarters in Seattle in December.
Reporting by Bill Rigby in Seattle, Dhanya Skariachan in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski