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Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama vote against unionizing

April 9, 2021, 3:47 PM UTC

Amazon workers seeking to unionize at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., took a big hit on Friday after failing to garner enough votes to form a majority union.

Friday morning, the final count totaled 1,798 votes against unionizing and 738 votes in favor. The 505 additional contested ballots ultimately will play no role in the outcome, given the overwhelming number of no votes.

The tally comes after a highly publicized battle that caught the attention of several pro-union political figures including Bernie Sanders. The unionization effort was backed by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union and was expected to serve as a catalyst for Amazon workers across the nation.

But the RWDSU plans to file objections with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that Amazon interfered with the election. An investigation by the NLRB will ultimately determine the outcome of the vote.

“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,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU. “Amazon knew full well that unless they did everything they possibly could, even illegal activity, their workers would have continued supporting the union.”

The RWDSU claims that Amazon used intimidation tactics like requiring workers to attend lectures “filled with mistruths and lies” about the matter. The company also flooded the airways with ads that spread misinformation, the RWDSU says, bombarded workers with text messages and calls, and brought “dozens” of union-busters to the floor of the warehouse. And Amazon allegedly pressured the U.S. Postal Service to install a ballot drop box at the warehouse, which may violate NLRB laws.  

“Amazon spent big in Bessemer, hiring some of the nation’s premier anti-union lawyers and relentlessly sowing fear and uncertainty among the workforce,” said Rebecca Kolins Givan, an associate professor at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. “Their investment paid off. They scared workers into voting against the union.”

The unionization efforts in Bessemer come after a year in which essential workers, like those running Amazon’s warehouses, played a vital role in keeping the economy running during the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, Big Tech got bigger. Amazon’s sales ballooned to $125.56 billion as consumers increasingly depended on delivery during pandemic-related shutdowns.

The formation of a majority union at an Amazon warehouse would have given workers the power to begin negotiating a contract with Amazon for things such as better pay, benefits, and working conditions. Amazon warehouse workers across the nation have regularly complained about grueling work environments in which their every move is monitored in order to meet lofty goals. They have also claimed that their jobs are unsafe and that the pandemic exacerbated the problem, owing to a lack of protective gear as well as the inability to properly social distance.

But Amazon has a history of successfully defeating unionization efforts. And in Alabama, Amazon has been using similar union-busting tactics—like offering unhappy workers bonuses to quit—to fend off the most recent attempt.

The final vote count could have major implications for labor organizing efforts not only at Amazon but at Big Tech companies across the board. In recent years, a growing movement of worker activism within the tech industry has emerged.

Last year, employees at crowdfunding platform Kickstarter unionized, and earlier this year Alphabet workers formed a minority union that includes high-tech workers as well as independent contractors. Meanwhile, employees at Facebook have grown increasingly outspoken against management, staging a virtual walkout last year to protest the lax handling of former President Donald Trump’s posts.

If union leaders at Amazon ultimately fail in challenging the election, workers could still opt to form a minority union, à la Alphabet. Minority unions give workers the power to easily mobilize around specific issues at a company, but management isn’t required to bargain with the unit. Amazon workers in Bessemer have yet to indicate whether they would form a minority union if they are unable to successfully establish a majority union.

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