Workers at Amazon’s warehouses in Bessemer, Alabama, voted overwhelmingly against forming a union on Thursday after a month-long campaign in which workers hoped to infiltrate the growing company.
While the voting broke for the night, 1,100 employees voted against the merger, compared to 463 in favor. The result was an almost insurmountable climb for union supporters to get the 1,608 votes needed to win.
If approved, the union will be Amazon’s first largest employer in the country, the United States.
Although the vote is not over, the Union of Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores or RWDSU, a union seeking to represent 5,800 workers in Bessemer, has already said it will challenge the vote by filing unscrupulous labor fees at the NLRB. It is alleged that Amazon violated the law with part of its anti-union activities on the eve of the election.
“Our system is broken, Amazon is taking full advantage of this, and we will call on the labor board to hold Amazon accountable for illegal and rude behavior during the campaign,”
Amazon did not provide a statement after the vote count ended Thursday night.
After the seven-week postal voting period ended on March 29, the NRRB spent two weeks checking the eligibility of ballots and counting them in a process monitored by the union and Amazon. Of the 5,805 eligible voters, 3,215 ballots were cast, but “hundreds” were set aside as contested, mostly by Amazon, according to the union. Ballots can be challenged by Amazon or the union on the basis of factors such as illegible signatures or questions about whether employees’ positions entitle them to vote. These ballots are counted only if the final margin is small enough.
A little surprise
Labor experts said the early predictions of the outcome came as no surprise, given the resources Amazon had invested in countering the organization.
“It’s so hard for workers to win in a situation like this,” said Rebecca Givan, an associate professor of management and labor relations at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “The most likely result in these situations is that the employer successfully breaks up the union, instilling fear and insecurity in the workers, and even those workers who were originally for the union organization are afraid and change their minds.”
The Bessemer warehouse, opened in March 2020, is Amazon’s first implementation center in Alabama. Workers began organizing for a union vote in August, hoping it would help improve their working conditions. It is currently difficult to go to the toilet without being punished, said Jennifer Bates, an Amazon employee in Bessemer, who said she was inspired to support the union’s efforts after regularly seeing her colleagues leave work, limping from the physical fee. the work takes.
Earlier this year, Amazon launched what labor experts described as a classic, well-funded anti-union campaign in the warehouse.
The workers said they were required to attend a number of meetings during their shifts, in which Amazon officials explained why they thought the union was not good for the workers. Posters throughout the warehouse, some of them in bathroom booths, encourage workers to vote no. The company also distributed buttons and stickers for employees to wear, and created a website and hashtag #DoItWithoutDues, highlighting how workers may have to pay $ 500 in annual dues to the union.
Amazon has a long history of frustrating unification. In 1999, U.S. communications workers launched a campaign to bring together 400 employees in Seattle’s customer service. After months of anti-union campaigns, Amazon closed the call center in 2000, according to the company, which was a restructuring involving a dot-com bust.
In 2014, 21 equipment technicians at Amazon’s Delaware warehouse voted against the organization with the International Association of Drivers and Space Workers, after a union spokesman described it as “intense pressure from managers and anti-union consultants.”
Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako told Time magazine then that the “no” vote against a third-party agency showed that employees “preferred a direct connection to Amazon.”
Workers in Bessemer, who opposed the union, seemed to doubt its purpose.
LaVonette Stokes, who works as a labor organizer at the Teachers’ Union in Alabama when she’s not working for Amazon, and her husband hold positions as mid-level process managers who earn $ 15 to $ 19 an hour. But she said the unskilled labor union in Bessemer made no sense and that it would move too slowly. She and her husband spent $ 2,400 of their own money to print leaflets detailing Amazon’s benefits.
“We’re talking about a union that has contracts where, yes, they got a raise, but it took them about five to seven years before they even got that raise,” she said.
Her husband, William, said, “We are not against the unions. We are against this particular union and we are against the unions in this particular facility. Everything this union offers we can do ourselves.”
Union workers said they hoped it would help improve their working conditions by providing better job security and benefits when Amazon reported record profits in part because of the pandemic-induced boom in online commerce. retail.
“I like my job. I give it 110 percent every day I go in there, no matter how difficult it is, how stressful it is,” said Daryl Richardson, a Bessemer warehouse worker. “But I feel that employees deserve better and more for what they do.”
Richardson said he and other union workers expected to be fired or forced to leave their jobs.
“I have to move on and I hate it,” he said. “It’s sad that you’re doing everything you can to try to make things better for people and you feel like you’re going to lose your job.”
Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said in an email: “We respect the right of all our employees to join, form or not join a union or other legitimate organization of their choice, without fear of reprisals, intimidation or harassment. . “
Amazon spokeswoman Leah Sea said Bessemer received health insurance and an hourly wage of at least $ 15.30, well above the federal minimum wage of $ 7.25 an hour. Alabama has no minimum wage law.
Employees also receive a retirement plan, Sea said.
The union’s drive has drawn worldwide attention to the conditions for Amazon’s warehouse workers and the length the company provides to prevent them from organizing, said Givan, a Rutgers professor.
“Workers across the country who have watched what is happening will be potentially inspired by what can happen if you take action and attract national attention,” she said.
Analysts say efforts to merge into other Amazon warehouses in the United States are likely to continue, especially in more expensive countries such as New York and California. RWDSU spokesman Chelsea Connor said the union had received more than a thousand requests to organize from Amazon employees at other facilities since the organization’s efforts began.
“Amazon is now for the best paid job an unskilled worker can get in Alabama,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. “But in higher-cost states, it’s barely a living wage.
“It will reduce profits,” he said. “But it’s a humane thing to do.”