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Early vote tally shows Amazon warehouse workers unlikely to unionize in Bessemer, Alabama

Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, overwhelmingly voted against forming a union on Friday after a months-long campaign in which workers had hoped to make a breakthrough in the sprawling company. As the vote count stopped for the night, 1,100 employees voted against unionization, against 463 in favor. The tally presented an almost insurmountable climb for union supporters to secure the 1,608 votes needed to win.

If approved, the union would be Amazon’s first, the nation’s second-largest employer, in the United States.

While the vote is not over, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores Union, or RWDSU, the union that seeks to represent Bessemer’s 5,800 workers, has already said it will challenge the vote by filing unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB. He will allege that Amazon broke the law with some of its anti-union activities in the run-up to the election.

“Our system is broken, Amazon has taken full advantage of it, and we will ask the Labor Relations Board to hold Amazon accountable for its illegal and egregious behavior during the campaign,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU. “But make no mistake – this is always an important moment for workers, and their voices will be heard.”

Amazon did not make a statement Thursday night after the count ended.

After the seven-week window for postal voting ended on March 29, the NLRB spent two weeks verifying the eligibility of ballots and counting them in a process observed by the union and Amazon. Out of 5,805 eligible voters, 3,215 votes were cast, but “hundreds” were set aside as contested, mainly by Amazon, according to the union. Ballots can be contested by Amazon or the union based on factors such as illegible signatures or questions about whether employee job titles allow them to vote. These ballots are only counted if the final margin is small enough.

Few surprises

Labor experts said early predictions for the outcome come as no surprise, given the resources Amazon has invested in tackling the organization.

“It’s so hard for workers to win in a situation like this,” said Rebecca Givan, associate professor of management and labor relations at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “The most likely outcome in these situations is that the employer succeeds in destroying the union by instilling fear and uncertainty in the workers, and even the workers who were initially in favor of organizing into a union fear and change their minds. ‘notice.

The Bessemer Warehouse, which opened in March 2020, is Amazon’s first distribution center in Alabama. Workers began to organize for a union vote in August, hoping it would help them improve their working conditions. Currently, it is difficult to go to the bathroom without being penalized, said Jennifer Bates, an Amazon worker in Bessemer, who said she was inspired to support the union effort after regularly seeing her colleagues leave work. limping because of the physical toll of the toll. the work takes.

Earlier this year, Amazon launched what labor experts called a classic, well-funded anti-union campaign in the warehouse.

Workers said they were required to attend several mandatory meetings during their shifts, where Amazon officials explained why a union, in their view, was not beneficial for workers. Posters all over the warehouse, including in the washrooms, encouraged workers to vote against the union. The company also distributed buttons and stickers for employees to wear and created a website and hashtag, #DoItWithoutDues, highlighting how workers may have to pay $ 500 in annual union dues.

Amazon has a long history of fighting unionization. In 1999, the Communications Workers of America launched a campaign to unionize 400 customer service employees in Seattle. After months of anti-union campaigning, Amazon shut down the call center in 2000 in what the company called an IT-related restructuring.

In 2014, 21 equipment technicians from an Amazon warehouse in Delaware voted against forming a union with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers over what the carrier said. the union’s word described it as “intense pressure from anti-union managers and consultants”.

At the time, Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako told Time magazine that the “no” against third-party representation showed that employees “preferred a direct connection to Amazon.”

Organize the spinoffs

Bessemer workers who opposed the union appeared to question its purpose. LaVonette Stokes works as a union organizer for the Alabama Teachers Union when she is not working at Amazon. She and her husband work as mid-level process guides who earn $ 15 to $ 19 an hour. But she said a union for unskilled labor in Bessemer made no sense and would evolve too slowly. She and her husband spent $ 2,400 of their own money printing flyers detailing the benefits of Amazon.

“We’re talking about a union that made contracts where, yes, they got a raise, but it took them about five to seven years to even get to that increase,” she said.

Her husband, William, said: “We are not against unions. We are against this particular union, and we are against a union in this particular facility. Whatever this union offers, we can do it ourselves. . “

Supportive union workers said they hope it will help improve their working conditions, giving them better job security and benefits when Amazon reports record profits in part because of a boom of e-commerce induced by a pandemic.

“I love my job. I give it 110 percent every day I go, no matter how hard it is, how stressful it is,” said Darryl Richardson, a Bessemer warehouse worker. . “But I feel that employees deserve better and more for what they do.”

Richardson said he and other pro-union workers expected to be fired or forced to quit their jobs.

“I have to move on, and I hate it,” he said. “It’s sad that you are doing all you can to try to make things better for people and you feel like you are going to lose your job.”

Kelly Nantel, spokesperson for Amazon, said in an email: “We respect the right of all our employees to join, form or not join a union or other legal organization of their own. choice, without fear of reprisal, intimidation or harassment. “

Amazon spokeswoman Leah Seay said that in Bessemer you have health care coverage and an hourly wage of at least $ 15.30, which is well above the minimum wage $ 7.25 an hour. Alabama does not have a minimum wage law.

Employees also benefit from a pension plan, Seay said.

A wider impact

Despite what appears to be a loss for union organizers, the union campaign has drawn worldwide attention to the working conditions of Amazon warehouse workers and the company’s efforts to prevent them from organizing. said Givan, Professor Rutgers.

“Workers across the country who have watched what is happening will potentially be inspired by what can happen if you take action and get national attention,” she said.

Analysts said organizing efforts at other Amazon warehouses in the United States should continue, especially in high-cost states like New York and California. RWDSU spokeswoman Chelsea Connor said the union had received more than a thousand inquiries from Amazon workers at other facilities about the organization since the start of the unionization effort.

“Amazon already offers the highest paying job an unskilled worker can get in Alabama,” said Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush Securities. “But in states where the costs are higher, that’s barely a living wage.”

“It will reduce profits,” he said. “But it’s a human thing to do.”

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