News & Politics

Amazon Workers Are Rejecting Joining a Union by a Decisive Margin

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

The final tally isn’t in yet, but as of late Thursday night, Amazon workers in Bessemer, Ala., are voting by a 2-1 margin against joining a union.

More than 3,200 votes were sent in and with about half the ballots counted, 1,100 warehouse workers had rejected the union while 463 voted in favor of it. The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, which is organizing the Amazon workers in Bessemer, claim that there was a 55 percent turnout of workers. Amazon employs more than 950,000 workers in the United States.

NBC San Diego:

Labor experts and union leaders believe, however, that Bessemer could still inspire other Amazon workers to try to unionize at the company’s hundreds of facilities across the country. And it could spread beyond the company, spurring action at Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, and other big retailers.

Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the retail union, struck a grim tone in a statement Thursday night as the initial results rolled in, signaling that the union will put up a legal fight if the vote doesn’t go its way.

“Our system is broken, Amazon took full advantage of that, and we will be calling on the labor board to hold Amazon accountable for its illegal and egregious behavior during the campaign,” he said, without specifying any allegations. “But make no mistake about it; this still represents an important moment for working people and their voices will be heard.”

The union would be fully satisfied only if Amazon had remained silent throughout the campaign and let the union’s propaganda go unanswered. But Amazon fought hard.

Both sides had launched a spirited campaign to win over workers. Amazon hung anti-union signs throughout the warehouse, including inside bathroom stalls. It held mandatory meetings to convince workers why the union was a bad idea and also argued that it already offered more than twice the minimum wage in Alabama plus benefits without workers having to pay union dues.

The company didn’t have to threaten anyone. Their case is self-evident as it will be in any right-to-work state. If the Democrats get their way and reform labor law, that won’t be the case. The rules governing union elections are roughly equal today. But the scales will tip decisively toward organized labor after a few years of radicals being in charge at the National Labor Relations Board.

But Bessemer was always seen as a long shot since it pitted the country’s second-largest employer against warehouse workers in a state where laws don’t favor unions. It is only the second time in Amazon’s 26-year history that an organizing effort from within the company had come to a vote. The last time, in 2014, a small group of mechanics at an Amazon warehouse in Delaware voted against unionization.

Richard Bensinger, a former organizing director for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the United Automobile Workers, noted the large number of workers who didn’t vote in Bessemer: “To me, that’s all about the paralysis, the fear. They don’t want to be supportive of the company but they are afraid to stand up for the union.”

I would say there’s at least as much fear of the union as there is fear of any employer. This isn’t 1950 anymore. People do not see organized labor as a solution to their problems. They usually see them as the enemy.

Working in a warehouse is no picnic and you’d think that a union would have a fairly easy time getting a foothold in the company. But perhaps workers are smarter than labor unions believe they are.