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Amazon union leaders pledge to keep fighting after decisive defeat: ‘The war is not over’

April 9, 2021, 9:03 PM UTC

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Leaders who championed Amazon’s labor organization efforts at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., aren’t backing down after a worker-wide vote ended in decisive defeat for the pro-union crowd on Friday.

The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the group which sought to represent Amazon’s warehouse workers, announced plans to file objections to the election results. The final count totaled 1,798 votes in opposition to the union and 738 votes in favor.

Michael Foster, an RWDSU organizer in Alabama known as “Big Mike,” rallied the losing side during a virtual press conference after the tally. “We will not be oppressed by billion-dollar industries anymore,” he said. “We’re going to fight until we can’t fight anymore.”

The RWDSU, which represents workers at companies such as Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, called for a full investigation of Amazon’s behaviors during the process. The group said it is filing complaints with the National Labor Relations Board and believes a redo of the vote “is very likely.” 

Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU’s president, said Amazon employed “outrageous” worker intimidation tactics in the lead-up to the vote. He condemned a “Do it without dues” campaign, in which the company suggested workers could negotiate with management individually, rather than collectively, and not have to pay union dues.

Appelbaum said Amazon’s anti-union actions reflect poorly on Jeff Bezos, the e-commerce leviathan’s founder and chairman, who is also one of the richest people in the world. “People know who [Bezos] is and what it is he’s willing to do to workers and to people trying to form a union,” Appelbaum said.

Amazon has a history of squashing union efforts. Most recently, the National Labor Relations Board determined that the company had illegally fired two activist workers who criticized the tech giant for its environmental impact and treatment of warehouse workers.

Labor leaders said though the initial unionization effort failed, they believe their highly publicized fight against Amazon will inspire more workers to stand up for their rights inside the company and across the tech industry. Already, worker activism has been growing at other companies including Alphabet and Facebook

Leaders also say their failed attempt exposes the weakness of labor laws, which do not provide enough protection for workers to unionize. “It really shouldn’t be this hard to form a union,” said Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), referring to the pressures Amazon workers faced from their employer. “The system is truly broken.”

Amazon objected to the suggestion that the company used scare tactics to boost no votes. Instead, the company said, the election result shows that workers’ “collective voices were finally heard.”

“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true,” reads a statement from the company. “Amazon didn’t win—our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union.”

Foster said the “war is not over” at Amazon and beyond. “People are hurt inside,” he said. “They’re saying that their hearts have changed, because they have heard both sides of the story now.”

“Our time will come around again, and next time we will win,” said Emmitt Ashford, a pro-union Amazon worker at the Bessemer site.

Linda Burns, another worker, echoed the sentiment. “I know you’re probably a little discouraged, but think of it as just a test,” she said. “Just keep the faith.”

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