Amazon Employees Vote Against Unionization in Alabama Warehouse
Amazon.com workers in Bessemer, Alabama, voted by a wide margin not to unionize last week, reports CNBC. The result culminates months of a closely watched and hard-fought election to unionize a U.S. Amazon facility for the first time, delivering a blow to organized labor. Approximately 5,800 workers at the Bessemer warehouse were eligible to vote on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The election result still needs to be formally certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Total Retail's Take: A labor fight within Amazon may well have been simmering for years, as more employees filed complaints against the e-commerce giant about a dearth of breaks during their shifts, including for the use of the bathroom; a physically punishing imperative for speed; intensive technological tracking of employees; lack of protections against COVID-19; among other issues. Amazon has denied many of those complaints, while also touting the pay and benefits of its warehouse jobs.
The unionization effort in Alabama transformed into a protracted labor battle at Amazon, with the company hiring the same law firm it used to assist with negotiations during a failed union drive in Delaware in 2014. The Washington Post reported that since mid-January, when the NLRB scheduled the vote, the company has ratcheted up efforts to sway workers, according to warehouse employees. It set up an anti-union website — DoItWithoutDues.com — discouraging workers from joining the union drive. Amazon has also held ongoing mandatory meetings for workers on company time, so-called captive-audience sessions, to show videos and run through PowerPoint presentations that disparage unionization.
Amazon refuted the allegations of intimidation. "It's easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that's not true," the company said. "Amazon didn't win — our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union."
The stakes couldn’t have been higher for the e-commerce giant, which was fighting the biggest labor battle in its history on U.S. soil. During the campaign, the RWDSU union received a critical endorsement from President Biden, who, without naming Amazon, discouraged any employer interference in the election. The union said it plans to challenge the election results and file objections over Amazon’s election conduct with the NLRB, as well as a number of unfair labor practice charges. It alleges that “Amazon interfered with the rights of its Bessemer, Alabama employees to vote in a free and fair election.”
"Amazon has taken a hit in terms of how it is viewed from the top down — from the Biden Administration down to the average worker," commented Jason Boyce, author of "The Amazon Jungle." "This was a win-lose. They lost a major PR battle, and the attention will surely draw more votes in union-friendly states."
After the vote, the big question is what, if anything, workers elsewhere in Amazon's massive operations will make of events in Bessemer, and whether the vote will encourage other efforts to unionize across Amazon's over 100 warehouses nationwide.
Kristina Stidham is the digital content director at Women in Retail Leadership Circle and sister brand Total Retail. She is passionate about digital media and handles video, podcast and virtual event production for both brands. You can often find her at WIRLC, TR, or industry events with her camera and podcasting equipment recording interviews with retailers.
Kristina holds a B.A. in Media Studies and Production from the Temple University Klein College of Media and Communication in Philadelphia. Go Owls! When she's not in the office, she loves to go on long walks, sing around the house, hangout with her two pet guinea pigs, and travel to new places.