The votes are in at the Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon distribution facility, and the online retailer has won a solid victory over the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Seventy-one percent of those casting ballots - which represented about 55 percent of the total workforce there - voted not to unionize.
In the words of the Wall Street Journal, this handed "the tech giant a victory in its biggest battle yet against labor-organizing efforts that fueled national debate over working conditions at one of the nation’s largest employers."
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) still has to certify the vote. However, the total number of challenged ballots, even if they all were in favor of unionization, would not be enough to overcome the deficit faced by the RWDSU.
The Journal notes that "the Bessemer facility employs less than 1% of the roughly 950,000 Amazon employees in the U.S., but the vote emerged as a watershed moment for a company that hired faster than almost any private corporation in history last year."
The New York Times puts it a little more starkly: "The lopsided outcome at the 6,000-person warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., dealt a crushing blow to labor organizers, Democrats and their allies at a time when conditions have been ripe for unions to make advances.
"Amazon, which has repeatedly quashed labor activism, had appeared vulnerable as it faced increasing scrutiny in Washington and around the world for its market power and influence."
The Hill writes that "despite the union’s loss, the effort in Bessemer seems likely to be a prelude to more worker activism at Amazon plants in the U.S.
"The RWDSU says it has heard from hundreds of Amazon workers across the country since the Alabama plant went public.
"Even if only a handful of those interested workers manage to mount a union drive, the conversation appears to have shifted."
RWDSU President Stuart Applebaum said, "We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote. Amazon knew full well that unless they did everything they possibly could, even illegal activity, their workers would have continued supporting the union."
Amazon's response: "“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true. We’re not perfect, but we’re proud of our team and what we offer, and will keep working to get better every day.”
Bloomberg writes that "citing documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, the RWDSU accused the company of 'corrupting the election' by pressuring the U.S. Postal Service to install a mailbox on Amazon property in an effort to make employees to cast their ballots there rather than someplace more free of company surveillance. Employees have also said that Amazon used mandatory group meetings and one-on-one discussions to predict harmful consequences if they unionized.
"Amazon has said that it hosted 'information sessions' so employees could 'understand the facts' about unionization, and told the Washington Post that the mailbox was a 'simple, secure, and completely optional' way to make voting easier. The company declined to comment on Appelbaum’s accusations."
- KC's View:
I do think that the celebration at Amazon should be short-lived, because it is going to have to figure out how to deal with similar movements around the country. Alabama always was going to be problematic for union organizers - it is a so-called "right to work" state where, even when a business is unionized, workers do not have to join in order to keep their jobs. The question was whether Amazon's treatment of workers, as characterized by organizers, was sufficient to get people past an anti-union prejudice.
The question is how a similar vote might've gone in California or Ohio or Illinois or New York. I suspect Amazon may be about to find out.
In addition, this will only draw more Congressional scrutiny, with new calls to regulate the company's growth or break it up.
Amazon better learn to tell its story more effectively, and work on having a better story to tell. I think that it positions itself as the very paradigm of 21st century business, and so it becomes a requirement that it behave like one. I'm not sure that it measures up on that particular scale.