Amazon vote: Organisers vow fight isn’t over as Alabama warehouse votes down landmark bid to unionise

Organisers will ‘seek remedy to each and every improper action Amazon took’ after union effort defeated

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 09 April 2021 17:36 BST
Bernie Sanders rallies Amazon workers in Alabama ahead of historic union vote

Union organisers have vowed to challenge a closely watched union vote at an Amazon facility in Alabama, where a majority of workers who participated in the vote have opposed unionising.

The election results on Friday mark Amazon’s fierce anti-union effort against a dedicated labour organisation among workers and high-profile support from the halls of Congress to the White House.

Workers and organisers have mounted one of the largest challenges yet to the nation’s second-largest retailer, the outcome of which will reverberate across workplaces and other Amazon facilities and mark a turning point for the US labour movement.

The union intends to file charges with the federal labour board against the “egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote,” said Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union president Stuart Applebaum in a statement on Friday.

The union also demands a “comprehensive investigation” into the company’s “despicable” behaviour during the election, he said.

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“Working people deserve better than the way Amazon has conducted itself during this campaign,” he said. “This campaign has proven that the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is to join together in a union. However, Amazon’s behaviour during the election cannot be ignored and our union will seek remedy to each and every improper action Amazon took. We won’t rest until workers’ voices are heard fairly under the law. When they are, we believe they will be victorious in this historic and critical fight to unionise the first Amazon warehouse in the United States.”

(AFP via Getty Images)

More than 3,200 ballots were cast among the roughly 5,800 workers at the sorting facility in Bessemer, a turnout of roughly 55 per cent. Workers voted to determine whether they will join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, what would be the first union within the company’s history.

Ballot counting at the National Labor Relations Board office in Birmingham followed a mail-in voting campaign from February until the end of March. A vote count paused on Thursday evening, with nearly half of the ballots counted, showing 463 ballots supporting unionisation and 1,000 votes against it.

Counting resumed on Friday morning, with votes in favour of the union trailing behind by a more than two-to-one margin.

Multiple reports, testimony to Congress and meetings with lawmakers and union organisers have revealed the scope of the company’s union-busting campaign, from messages in bathroom stalls to text messages to workers’ phones and one-on-one messages on the sorting facility floor.

The company also waged a public relations blitz across social media.

On Thursday, reporting from More Perfect Union revealed Amazon’s coordination with the US Postal Service to install a ballot collection box outside the facility on 9 February. The dropbox was installed under an Amazon tent. Organisers and labour activists contend the box placed outside their workplace was used to pressure employees to bring ballots to work that they had received in the mail and vote against the union effort.

The union said that Amazon also challenged several hundred ballots which were likely “yes” votes, held aside for a separate adjudication process.

A majority of the ballots were cast in February, according to organisers, before mainstream media attention and visits from members of Congress, celebrities and activists who joined a nationwide campaign to support workers and organisers.

Union organisers argue that the NLRB had denied the company’s request for a dropbox on the warehouse property, and that the company went “above the law” in an effort to intimidate workers.

Amazon did not dispute its correspondence with the USPS in a statement to The Independent.

Amazon spokesperson Maria Boschetti told The Independent: “We said from the beginning that we wanted all employees to vote and proposed many different options to try and make it easy. The RWDSU fought those at every turn and pushed for a mail-only election, which the NLRB’s own data showed would reduce turnout. This mailbox – which only the USPS had access to – was a simple, secure and completely optional way to make it easy for employees to vote, no more and no less.”

The facility in Bessemer opened in early 2020, imprinting a $361m investment – supported by more than $3m in tax incentives – into the Deep South. Its workforce is 80 per cent Black.

Workers and organisers have sought better and safer working conditions, including hazard pay provisions and an end to the company’s practice of near-constant worker surveillance.

Employers are charged with violating federal law in 41.5 per cent of all union election campaigns, according to a 2019 analysis from the Economic Policy Institute.

Charges include threats, surveillance or harassment in nearly a third of all union election campaigns, the organisation found.

Employers spend roughly $340m annually on “union avoidance” consultants to combat organising efforts, according to the report.

“This combination of illegal conduct and legal coercion has ensured that union elections are characterised by employer intimidation and in no way reflect the democratic process guaranteed” by the NLRB, the group reported.

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