Amazon warehouse workers reject union bid in Alabama

AP – Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama handed the online retail giant a decisive victory when they voted against forming a union and cut off a path that labour activists had hoped would lead to similar efforts throughout the company and beyond.

After months of aggressive campaigning from both sides, 1,798 warehouse workers ultimately rejected the union while 738 voted in favour of it, according to the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB), which is overseeing the process.

Of the 3,117 votes cast, 76 were voided for being filled out incorrectly and 505 were contested by either Amazon or the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which led the organising efforts in Bessemer. But the NLRB said the contested votes were not enough to sway the outcome. About 53 per cent of the nearly 6,000 workers cast their ballots.

The union said it would file an objection with the NLRB charging the company with illegally interfering with the union vote. It will seek a hearing with the labour board to determine if the results “should be set aside” after it accused Amazon of spreading disinformation about the unionisation effort at meetings that workers were required to attend.

“Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees. We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged,” said President of the RWDSU Stuart Appelbaum.

A banner encouraging workers to vote in labour balloting is shown at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. PHOTO: AP

Amazon said in a statement that it didn’t intimidate employees.

“Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us,” the company said. “And Amazon didn’t win — our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union.”

The union push was the biggest in Amazon’s 26-year history and only the second time that an organising effort from within the company had come to a vote. But Bessemer was always viewed as a long shot since it pitted the country’s second-largest employer against warehouse workers in a state with laws that don’t favour unions. Alabama is one of 27 “right-to-work” states where workers don’t have to pay dues to unions that represent them.

That the labour movement in Bessemer even got this far was unexpected. Amazon has an undefeated record of snuffing out union efforts before they can spread. And at a time when the economy is still trying to recover and companies have been eliminating jobs, it is one of the few places still hiring during the pandemic, adding 500,000 workers last year alone.