Amazon appeared to have beaten the most important workforce in its history on Friday, when an initial tally showed workers at their giant warehouse in Alabama voted decisively against the union formation.
Workers dropped at least 1,608 votes against a union, enough for Amazon to beat the effort, as the number of votes in favor of a union reached 696, according to preliminary tally. Hundreds of votes were still checked, but not enough to narrow Amazon’s win rate. Once counting is complete, the results still need to be certified by federal officials.
The resulting failure at a 6,000-man warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., Dealt a blow to labor organizers, Democrats and their allies at a time when conditions were ripe for unions to advance. the set.
Amazon, which has repeatedly blocked labor activity, appears vulnerable in the face of increasing scrutiny in Washington and around the world over its market power and influence. President Biden signaled in support of the union’s efforts, as did Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is independent in Vermont. The pandemic, which caused millions of shoppers online, also highlighted the plight of essential workers and questioned Amazon’s ability to keep those employees safe.
But in an aggressive campaign, the company argues that its workers can access rewarding jobs without having to join a union. Victory gives Amazon the freedom to treat employees on its own terms, as it has continued to recruit and expand its workforce to over 1.3 million people.
Margaret O’Mara, a professor at the University of Washington who studies the history of tech companies, says Amazon’s message that they provide good jobs with good salaries prevails. quotes from the union and its supporters. As a result, she said, “read like justification.”
She added that although it was just a warehouse, the election drew so much attention that it became an “election”. Amazon’s victory may make organized workers think “perhaps this is not worth trying elsewhere,” said Ms O’Mara.
The retail, wholesale and department store alliance, took the lead, blamed its failure for what they saw as Amazon’s anti-alliance tactics before and in the vote, which has been running since early February. to the end of last month.
“Our system is broken,” said Stuart Appelbaum, union president. “Amazon has made the most of that and we will call on the labor department to hold Amazon accountable for its illegal and serious behavior during the campaign.”
Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A total of 3,215 votes, or 55% of the 5,805 qualified voters in the warehouse, were dropped in the election. A majority of votes, or 1,608, are required to win. The coalition said about 500 votes were disputed, most of which belonged to Amazon. Those votes were not counted.
William and Lavonette Stokes, who started working at the Bessemer warehouse in July, said the union had failed to convince them how their working conditions could be improved. Amazon has provided good benefits, relatively high salaries starting at $ 15 an hour and the chance to get promoted, said the couple with five children.
Ms. Stokes, 52, said: “Amazon is the only job I know where they pay for health insurance for you since Day 1. She added that she was shut down by the way organizers try to turn union dynamics into an extension of the Black Lives Matter movement since most workers are black.
“This is not an African-American problem,” said Black Stokes. “I feel like you can comfortably work there without being disturbed.”
Voting could lead to a reexamination of strategy within the labor movement.
For years, union organizers have been trying to capitalize on growing fears about low-paid workers to break into Amazon. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Alliance has organized around important topics about assisting the essential black workers in the pandemic. Trade unions estimate that 85% of workers at the Bessemer warehouse are black.
The inability to organize a warehouse also entails decades of unsuccessful and costly attempts to form unions at Walmart, the only US company that employs more people than Amazon. Repeated failures at the two giants could motivate labor organizers to focus more on supporting national policies, such as higher federal minimum wages, instead. for consolidating individual workplaces.
The Amazon warehouse, on the outskirts of Birmingham, opened up a year ago, just as the pandemic broke out. It was part of a massive expansion at the company that accelerated during a pandemic. Last year, Amazon grew more than 400,000 employees in the United States, where it now employs nearly one million workers. Warehouse workers usually assemble and package items for customers.
The attempt to consolidate came together quickly, especially for a company aimed at such a large goal. A small group of workers at the Bessemer building approached the local branch of the retail workers’ union last summer. They are frustrated with how Amazon keeps track of every second of their workday through technology and feel that their managers aren’t willing to listen to their complaints.
Organizers who had at least 2,000 workers signed on cards say they wanted an election, enough for the National Labor Relations Commission, which conducts union elections, to approve a vote. .
Elections were conducted by mail, a concession to the pandemic. Instead of holding an election for just a few days, workers have more than a month to complete and mail their ballot, which is due on March 29.
Amazon’s public campaign focuses on the benefits the company has to offer and a $ 15 minimum wage, which is more than double the Alabama minimum. Internally it stresses that workers don’t need to pay union members to have a great job. The company’s motto – “Do it without charge” – was sent to workers in text messages, mandatory meetings and signs in bathroom stalls.
Trade unions complain that those tactics show how companies like Amazon have an advantage as they can hold mandatory anti-union meetings and have access to workers in warehouses to convince them to quit. votes no. In 2018, the union also tried and failed to break into an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island.
O’Mara said it was the complaints that the union raised about job stability and security that made it more difficult to organize workers. That’s because the transience of warehouse jobs “is against building solidarity and a willingness to invest in the employer and the job,” she said.
Many labor leaders have said that consolidating Amazon is critical to reverse the long-term decline in union membership, which has fallen to just over 6% of the private sector from the bar. teenagers in the early 1980s.
They argue that Amazon has power over millions of workers in the industries in which it operates. They say that corporate dominance has forced competitors to adopt their methods of labor, which prioritize efficiency.
Mr. Appelbaum, president of the retail workers union, said in an interview in 2019. “Amazon is transitioning from one industries to another,” said Appelbaum, president of the union of workers. retailer, said in an interview in 2019. “Amazon’s vision of the world is not one that we want or can accept.” He often called the attempt to unify Amazon as a war for the “future of work.”
Some union leaders have said the Bessemer campaign will advance the goals of labor even if it ends at a loss.
Sara Nelson, president of the Airline Cabin Crew Association, said the election generated “a lot of rumors and discussions, and people across the country are hearing that unions are the solution.” “We were able to really discuss what the union is actually doing.”
Noam Scheiber and Sophia June contributed reports.