Amazon workers at a vast depot in Coventry are poised to go on strike in the new year, demanding pay of £15 an hour, after securing a historic yes vote in a ballot for industrial action.
Members of the GMB union opted to hold a second ballot after narrowly missing the 50% turnout threshold earlier this year.
This time the turnout was 63%, with 98% of those backing strike action, marking the first time Amazon workers in the UK have voted to do so.
While those balloted amount to fewer than a quarter of the 1,400 or so staff employed at the plant, the GMB hailed it as a major victory, given Amazon’s long-documented hostility to trade unions.
Amanda Gearing, a senior organiser at the GMB, said: “Amazon workers in Coventry have made history – they should be applauded for their grit and determination – fighting for what’s right in the face of an appallingly hostile environment.”
Workers at the site staged an informal stoppage in the summer, when they were told they would receive a pay rise of 50p an hour, taking the basic rate to £10.50.
Hayley Greaves, a GMB member who works at the Coventry plant, said: “The cost of living is going up and we’re really struggling. People are doing 60 hours a week if they can get it, or if they can’t get 60 hours, they’re doing other jobs.
“Different people are joining for different reasons. If we all join together and we stick together, we might have a fighting chance to make some changes for everyone.”
The Coventry workers have won the backing of US organisers who recently secured union recognition at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York. Derrick Palmer, of the Amazon Labor Union, joined a recent online rally in support of their cause.
The depot, built on land previously occupied by Jaguar Land Rover, receives goods from sellers and sorts them into batches to be dispatched to Amazon’s fulfilment centres, which then sends out parcels to consumers.
Greaves echoed another worker the Guardian spoke to anonymously earlier this year, in describing high-pressure working conditions, with staff set targets to sort hundreds of items an hour. “If you’ve been there four years and it’s your fourth or fifth shift of the week, you might not be able to get that by three o’clock in the morning,” she said.
She adds that resentment about what some colleagues felt was a paltry pay rise was particularly acute since Amazon staff were among those who worked throughout the pandemic. “We were classed as key workers. We worked all through Covid, none of us had any time off,” she said.
An Amazon spokesperson said: “We appreciate the great work our teams do throughout the year and we’re proud to offer competitive pay, which starts at a minimum of between £10.50 and £11.45 a hour, depending on location. This represents a 29% increase in the minimum hourly wage paid to Amazon employees since 2018.”
They added that employees would receive an extra one-off £500 payment, “as an extra thank you”.
These payments were announced while the GMB’s first ballot was taking place and the union had complained they could amount to an unfair inducement not to strike, because the second £250 tranche was “dependent on no unauthorised absence between 22 November and 24 December”, according to a message to staff.
This covered the period when they had hoped to strike if the first ballot had resulted in a yes vote.
James Schneider, the communications director for Progressive International, which co-convenes the worldwide Make Amazon Pay campaign, said: “Congratulations to the Coventry workers and their union, the GMB, for standing up for themselves and their families.
“All over the world, workers are facing a sharp rise in the cost of living but Amazon is refusing to increase wages with inflation, squeezing every drop it can. Everyone knows the company has the money to do right by its workers and yet it refuses.”
Strike action is now expected to take place in January. Amazon says it is unlikely to have an impact on customers because the plant is not a fulfilment centre, dispatching parcels. However, the GMB is hopeful of causing significant disruption.
The stoppage will take place as a wave of strikes continues to sweep across the UK amid double-digit inflation, with nurses, rail staff, civil servants and postal workers already striking, and teachers currently balloting.