Workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., warehouse have voted not to unionize, a major victory for the e-commerce giant but not the end of the fight for labor organizers.
Out of the 3,215 employees who participated, 1,798 “no” votes and 738 “yes” votes were recorded. Fifty-percent plus one of the employees would have had to vote “yes” for the union to gain National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recognition.
“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true,” Amazon said in a blog post. “We’re not perfect, but we’re proud of our team and what we offer, and will keep working to get better every day.”
Although the initial vote has gone against them, the union plans to challenge the results.
“We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote,” Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) President Stuart Applebaum said. “Amazon knew full well that unless they did everything they possibly could, even illegal activity, their workers would have continued supporting the union.”
The vote count had been going on for over four hours when Amazon reached the threshold needed to guarantee a win, starting Thursday afternoon before wrapping up Friday morning. NLRB staff hand counted each ballot, double checking the count after every hundred votes in each direction.
Amazon and the RWDSU both had in-person representatives watching the vote, which was streamed publicly on Zoom to a small number of outsiders.
The union went public last October, just months after the Bessemer plant opened.
Workers at the facility had raised concerns about intense work quotas, insufficient wages and Amazon’s handling of employee safety during the coronavirus pandemic.
Amazon maintained since the beginning of the unionization push that it provided sufficient wages and worker protections, warning employees against voting “yes.”
Workers were critical of some of the company’s tactics, like petitioning to change traffic lights or installing a mailbox in the parking lot.
That latter tactic is likely to precipitate a challenge from the RWDSU, especially after the union obtained emails between Postal Service employees showing that Amazon pressed the agency to install the box just as voting began.
John Logan, an expert on anti-union strategy at San Francisco State University, told The Hill that the mailbox placement “appears to be a form of ballot harvesting and thus a violation of federal law.”
“The NLRB twice rejected the company’s arguments for an on-site election during the pandemic, but Amazon bullied the USPS into giving it an on-site mailbox at the start of the election period,” he explained. “Essentially, the NLRB told Amazon, ‘no onsite voting,’ and the company used its leverage as the Postal Service’s biggest customer to circumvent the NLRB decision.”
The union could also challenge Amazon’s messaging efforts, which include the company holding captive audience meetings, sending text messages that one employee told The Hill reminded them of a stalker ex or launching a website that falsely told workers they would have to pay dues if the union won.
Charges of unfair labor practices could provide grounds to overturn the result, extending the battle over unionization in Bessemer.
There also remain hundreds of challenged ballots, with the RWDSU claims were primarily challenged by Amazon, although given the initial margin they would be insufficient to swing the result alone.
Despite the union’s loss, the effort in Bessemer seems likely to be a prelude to more worker activism at Amazon plants in the U.S.
The RWDSU says it has heard from hundreds of Amazon workers across the country since the Alabama plant went public.
Even if only a handful of those interested workers manage to mount a union drive, the conversation appears to have shifted.
“As we wait on the results of the Amazon union election; victory has already been won!” Jennifer Bates, a worker organizer at the plant who testified before Congress last month, tweeted as votes were being tallied. “[T]he bell has already been rung.”
The election may have also provided some fuel for unionization efforts in other industries, regardless of the result.
“The union phone is ringing off the hook,” Sara Nelson, president of Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International, told The Hill last month. “Everybody is watching this, everybody is saying ‘well, you know if they can stand up in Alabama, we can stand up where we are.’”
“It’s extremely inspirational and we’re starting to see the results of that,” she added.
The election comes as the Democratic-backed PRO Act remains in the Senate after passing the House on a nearly party-line vote.
Amazon’s success in beating back the union could bring more attention to the legislation, which is aimed at offering protections for employees trying to unionize.
“The bottom line is that workers need to be empowered to organize and call for better conditions,” said Sheheryar Kaoosji, executive director of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, a member group of the anti-Amazon coalition Athena. “That’s what Amazon is fighting against through intimidation and retaliation.”
Updated: 12:45 p.m.
[email protected] (Chris Mills Rodrigo)