Efforts to unionize Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse were defeated by a wide margin in the second day of vote counting. More than half of the 3,215 votes cast broke in favor of the retailer. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which would have served as the workers' union, had the vote passed, was quick to challenge the results.
RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement offered to TechCrunch:
Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees. 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. Amazon knew full well that unless they did everything they possibly could, even illegal activity, their workers would have continued supporting the union.
That’s why they required all their employees to attend lecture after lecture, filled with mistruths and lies, where workers had to listen to the company demand they oppose the union. That’s why they flooded the internet, the airwaves and social media with ads spreading misinformation. That’s why they brought in dozens of outsiders and union-busters to walk the floor of the warehouse. That’s why they bombarded people with signs throughout the facility and with text messages and calls at home. And that’s why they have been lying about union dues in a right to work state. Amazon’s conduct has been despicable.
This initial defeat represents a large setback in the biggest unionization push in Amazon’s 27-year history. What might have represented a sea change for both the retail giant and blue-collar tech workers has, for now, been fairly soundly defeated.
Amazon has, of course, long insisted that it treats workers fairly, making such union efforts unnecessary. The company cites such standards as a $15 an hour minimum wage, a factor the company initial pushed back on, but ultimately instated after pressure from legislators.
It was a hard-fought battle on both sides. A number of legislators threw their weight behind unionization efforts, in an unlikely alliance that ranged from Bernie Sanders to Marco Rubio. The conservative Florida Senator noted the company's “uniquely malicious corporate behavior.” President Joe Biden also sided with the workers, calling himself, “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen."
The company will no doubt tout the results as vindication. It noted in an early statement, "[O]ur employees are smart and know the truth—starting wages of $15 or more, health care from day one, and a safe and inclusive workplace. We encourage all of our employees to vote.”
In a blog post following the news, the company noted:
It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true. Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us. And Amazon didn’t win—our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union. Our employees are the heart and soul of Amazon, and we’ve always worked hard to listen to them, take their feedback, make continuous improvements, and invest heavily to offer great pay and benefits in a safe and inclusive workplace. We’re not perfect, but we’re proud of our team and what we offer, and will keep working to get better every day.
Among the expected challenges from the union are lingering questions around ballot boxes reportedly installed by the company in violation of labor board terms."[E]ven though the NLRB definitively denied Amazon's request for a drop box on the warehouse property, Amazon felt it was above the law and worked with the postal service anyway to install one," the RWDSU writes. "They did this because it provided a clear ability to intimidate workers."
The Bessemer warehouse, which employees around 6,000 workers, was opened at the end of March 2020, as the company looked to expand the operation of its essential workers during the impending lockdown. The conversation has surface variously longstanding complaints around the company's treatment of blue-collar workers, including numerous reports that employees urinate in water bottles in order to meet stringent performance standards.
The company initially denied these claims during a social media offensive, but later clarified its stance in an apology of sorts, appearing to shift the blame to wider industry problems. The company also ran anti-union ads on its subsidiary, Twitch, before the streaming platform pulled them, stating that they "should never have been allowed to run."
All told, 3,215 ballots were cast, representing more than half of the workers at the Alabama warehouse. In spite of Amazon winning more than half the votes, counting will continue. Challenges are likely to stretch on for weeks.