Amazon wins sufficient votes to beat union efforts in Alabama

Amazon won enough votes Friday to defeat the union movement at one of its Alabama warehouses, dealt a blow to organized workers hoping to unionise a U.S. Amazon facility for the first time.

Of the 3,215 ballots cast, 1,798 were against the union and 738 were in favor. Approximately 5,800 Bessemer camp employees were able to vote on whether to join the retail, wholesale and department store union.

To defeat the union, Amazon had to get 1,608 votes, or just over 50% of the votes cast. The profit margin is greater than the 500 or so challenged ballot papers, which would only have been counted if they had influenced the election result. The election result has yet to be officially confirmed by the Nationa Labor Relations Board.

RWDSU said it plans to question the election results. The union said it intends to raise objections to Amazon’s voting behavior with the NLRB, as well as a number of unfair labor practices charges. “Amazon has violated the rights of its employees in Bessemer, Alabama, in a free and fair election.”

The union effort in Alabama turned into a protracted labor dispute at Amazon, where the company hired the same law firm it helped negotiate with a failed union action in Delaware in 2014. Amazon also made its position on the union campaign clear to workers at the Bessemer facility by holding mandatory meetings, setting up a website encouraging workers to “act free of charge” and distributing leaflets instructing workers to vote “NO” in the historic elections.

The union specifically called out a mailbox installed outside the Bessemer plant, including allegations that it was placed there by the U.S. Postal Service on instructions from Amazon. The company said the mailbox should make it easier for workers to cast their vote, adding that only the postal service has access to the mailbox.

The RWDSU’s objections are likely to spark a protracted legal battle over whether Amazon engaged in anti-union behavior that prevented the possibility of a fair election. RWDSU said it was ready to provide evidence to the NLRB in support of complaints that Amazon had breached labor law.

In a statement, RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said Amazon had “left no stone unturned in supplying its own employees with gas”.

“We will not allow the lies, deceit and illegal activities of Amazon to go unchallenged. That is why we are officially bringing charges against all outrageous and obviously illegal measures that Amazon took during the union vote,” said Appelbaum. “We call for a full investigation into Amazon’s behavior in corrupting this election.”

Amazon said in a statement that “the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that is not true.”

“Our employees have heard far more anti-Amazon messages from unions, policy makers and the media than from us,” the company said. “And Amazon didn’t win – our employees chose to vote against joining a union.”

Both RWDSU and Amazon held press conferences after the result, in which employees of the Bessemer camp BHM1 took part. At the press conference hosted by Amazon, BHM1 warehouse worker Will Stokes said he and others will be working with workers who voted for the union to address their grievances.

“We actually have a seat at the table now,” said Stokes. “We talk to the management and in the next 100 days we have things that we want to change. Something will come of that.”

The vote concludes months of intense campaigns from both Amazon and RWDSU. In November, workers at the Bessemer plant announced that they would hold a union election. RWDSU organizers were stationed in front of the Bessemer plant every day in the hope of catching Amazon employees on their way home.

In the months that followed, support for the campaign increased. The union received critical endorsement from President Joe Biden who, without naming Amazon, discouraged any interference by the employer in the election.

The White House declined to comment on the election result until the NLRB confirms the results.

Amazon has long been a target for large unions. The Teamsters, the United Food & Commercial Workers Union and the RWDSU quietly meet with warehouse and delivery workers. The coronavirus pandemic, the explosion of protests against Black Lives Matter last summer, and mounting concerns about workplace safety have sparked interest in the organization of Amazon warehouses.

In a statement, Randy Korgan, Amazon’s director for Teamsters, praised RWDSU’s efforts to organize Amazon employees in Alabama.

“Although workers in Bessemer are facing off against one of the richest men in the world in a country with weak labor laws, they have drawn national attention to problems faced by many non-union workers in the industry,” Korgan said. “This fight is not over yet.”

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