Workers at a Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, voted categorically against unionization, a blow to the American labor movement and its hopes of gaining a foothold in the e-commerce giant.
The campaign to create the first Amazon union in the United States garnered worldwide attention and support from the highest political office, but ultimately failed to make an impact where it really mattered: the ballot box.
About 55 percent of the facility’s approximately 6,000 workers voted by mail due to the pandemic restrictions. In a count made during a videoconference – in front of an audience of more than 200 lawyers, observers and journalists – the vote “no” obtained 1,798 votes for the 738 of the union.
Despite the heavy defeat, union representatives showed courage, saying the vote itself was a historic achievement, the first time that an entire facility in Amazon’s home country had a choice.
The Wholesale Retailers and Department Stores Union said it would appeal the outcome, citing what it said were numerous and blatant efforts to illegally influence the vote.
“Amazon knew full well that unless they did everything they could, even illegal activities, their workers would have continued to support the union,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU.
In a statement, Amazon thanked its employees. “It’s easy to predict that the union will say that Amazon won this election because we bullied the employees, but that’s not true,” the company said in a blog post published on Friday.
“Our employees have heard a lot more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers and the media than they’ve heard from us. And Amazon didn’t win – our employees chose to vote against union membership. “
Whatever its specifics, the company’s victory continues an undefeated race to push back organizing efforts in the United States. The Bessemer plant was the first U.S. facility to reach the stage of holding a formal and sanctioned vote, having garnered sufficient indications of support late last year.
Despite the loss of the union, the battle could drag on for many more months. The appeal will first be heard by a local office of the National Labor Relations Board and could ultimately be decided by politically appointed members of the agency’s board of directors in Washington, said John Logan, a studies professor. on Work and Employment at San Francisco State University. .
“It’s conceivable that by the time he got to the full NLRB board, he could have a Democratic majority,” Logan said. The term of William Emanuel, appointed Republican, is to end in August.
In March, President Joe Biden showed strong support for workers, urging Amazon stand aside to allow workers to make a “free and fair choice”. Logan described the comments as “the most pro-union statement ever made by a sitting president.”
The Biden administration supports the Protecting the Right To Organize Act, which seeks to outlaw many of the tactics Amazon adopted during the campaign. The PRO law was passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year.
“American workers will not have consistent access to free, fair and secure union elections until we strengthen our country’s labor laws,” said Virginia MP Bobby Scott, chair of the committee. the Chamber on Education and Work, after the vote on the Amazon.
“We cannot continue to allow employers to interfere with the decision of workers whether or not to form a union. The Senate must adopt the PRO law. “
The campaign also gained support from the Black Lives Matter movement and was closely watched by other prominent civil rights figures. More than 75% of the Bessemer plant’s workforce is African-American.
“Workers feel like they don’t have a voice and don’t know how to speak out,” said Marc Bayard, director of the Black Worker Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. “These workers have shown a path to success.”
The RWDSU appeal will focus on installing a mailbox in the facility’s parking lot in full view of security cameras, a move that officials say was designed to intimidate employees when they put down their envelopes.
Emails obtained by the RWDSU appeared to show that Amazon pressured the U.S. Postal Service to install the box before the vote began. It has since been deleted.
Amazon previously said it was “a simple, secure and completely optional way to make it easy for employees to vote, no more and no less.”
Other union complaints included a campaign of ‘captive audience’ meetings, in which Amazon warned employees against unionizing, as well as the posting of anti-union posters around the factory – some of them. in the toilets.
Earlier in the campaign, the union drew attention to changes to the traffic light sequences outside the establishment, which gave its officials less time to talk to employees when they left. work. Amazon said the move was designed to reduce congestion.
The UNI Global Union, a group representing more than 900 unions, said the effort at Bessemer created a high-level discussion about working conditions at Amazon, whose workforce has grown by more than 500,000 people since the start of the pandemic, and now totals 1.3 million worldwide.
“The Bessemer effect electrifies the moment of work, inspiring action from Myanmar to Munich to Montevideo,” said Christy Hoffman, UNI General Secretary.
“During this vote, there were strikes in Germany and Italy, and a massive new effort to reach Amazon workers was launched in the UK. It will continue to give hope to workers who demand a voice at work and work with dignity.
“Employees in Alabama – and Amazon workers around the world – need to keep their heads up and their eyes fixed on victory. Together, it’s inevitable.