On Friday, Amazon workers in a giant warehouse in Alabama voted decisively against the establishment of a union, suppressing the most important organizational drive in the history of the Internet giant, and dealing a heavy blow to labor and Democrats when conditions are ripe.
Workers voted 1,798 votes for the union, which gave Amazon enough power to defeat this effort. Federal officials said there were only 738 votes in favor of the union, which was less than 30% of the votes.
In Bessemer, Alabama’s warehouse of 6,000 people, the result of the drifting away, even in the pandemic, the economic and pro-labor presidential election effects have made the country more aware of the plight of essential workers.
But in a radical campaign, the company argued that its workers could get rewarded work without having to join a union. This victory allowed Amazon to deal with employees freely on its own terms, as it carried out large-scale recruitment and expanded its workforce to more than 1.3 million.
Margaret O’Mara, a professor at the University of Washington who studies the history of technology companies, said Amazon’s message is that it provides good, high-paying jobs, which has surpassed the criticism of unions and their supporters. She said the results “proved to be right.”
She added that although this is just a warehouse, the election has attracted widespread attention and has become a “leader.” Ms. O’Mala said that Amazon’s victory is likely to make organized workers think: “Maybe it’s not worth trying elsewhere.”
The retail, wholesale, and department store alliance that led the event blamed the failure on what it said was Amazon’s anti-union strategy before and during the voting that took place from early February to the end of last month. The union stated that it will question the findings and ask federal labor officials to investigate the “chaos, coercion, and/or fear of retaliation” caused by Amazon.
“Our system is broken,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the chairman of the union. “Amazon takes full advantage of this advantage.”
Amazon said in a statement: “The union will say that Amazon won this election because we scared employees, but this is not true.” It added: “Amazon did not win, our employees voted against it. The choice to join a union.”
Of the 5876 qualified voters in the warehouse, about half voted in the election. To win a majority of votes, 1,521 votes. The union said there were about 500 votes, mainly conducted by Amazon. These votes are not counted. If the union is voted through, it will be the first union for Amazon workers in the United States.
William and Lavonette Stokes (William and Lavonette Stokes) started working at the Bessemer warehouse in July. He said the union had failed to convince them how to improve their working conditions. The couple have five children and they say that Amazon has provided good benefits, relatively high starting salaries (starting at $15 an hour) and promotion opportunities.
Ms. Stokes, 52, said: “I know that from day one, Amazon is the only job they pay you for health insurance.” She added that since most of the workers are black, the organizers tried to unionize The movement was rejected as an extension of the “Black Life Issues” movement.
Ms. Stokes of Black said: “This is not an African American problem.” “I think you can work comfortably there without being harassed.”
At a press conference organized by Amazon on Friday, Mr. Stokes and other workers said they were worried that the company wanted to solve this problem, such as providing better training for managers and anti-bias coaching.
He said: “We just think we can do it without a union.” “Why do we do what we can do for the union?”
Workers in the Amazon union said they were frustrated with the results. Emmet Ashford, a worker at the Bessemer warehouse, said at a press conference organized by the union: “Of course, we will be disappointed and angry with the results of this election.”
He and other workers said they hope to overturn the election results due to Amazon’s anti-union strategy, adding that they are proud to inspire workers in other warehouses to consider joining a union.
Mr. Ashford said: “Our time will come again.”
The vote may lead to a rethinking of the internal strategy of the labor movement.
For years, union organizers have tried to capitalize on growing concerns about low-wage workers to break into Amazon. The retail, wholesale and department store unions organized events around key themes of supporting the black pandemic. The union estimates that 85% of the workers in the Bessemer warehouse are black.
For decades, Walmart’s attempt to form a union has failed and was costly. Walmart is the only American company that employs more people than Amazon and therefore cannot organize warehouses. The repeated failures of two large companies may prompt labor organizations to focus more on supporting national policies, such as raising the federal minimum wage, rather than uniting individual work units.
Democrats in Washington fully support the union’s efforts. He said the loss shows that they need to push for changes in labor laws and antitrust laws. The House of Representatives passed regulations this year to expand the scope of protection for workers, but it is unlikely to get approval from the Senate.
Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat who visited Bessemer, said: “Without labor law reforms, workers cannot organize large-scale operations in the United States.”
When the epidemic broke out a year ago, the Amazon warehouse in the suburbs of Birmingham opened. This is part of a major expansion that the company accelerated during the pandemic. Last year, Amazon added 400,000 employees in the United States, and now has nearly 1 million employees in the United States. Warehouse workers usually assemble and pack orders for customers.
The efforts of the unions quickly came together, especially for such a big goal. Last summer, a small group of workers in the Bessemer building approached the local branch of the retail workers’ union for help. They are frustrated with how Amazon continuously monitors every second of their working hours through technology, and they feel that their managers are unwilling to listen to their complaints.
The organizers seemed to have received strong support early on. At least 2,000 workers signed the card saying that they wanted to hold an election, which was enough to allow the National Labor Relations Committee, which conducts the union election, to approve the vote.
Some labor experts say that the erosion of this early support shows that employers have power in anti-union campaigns by holding mandatory meetings and discussing organizational shortcomings with employees during working hours. Others said that the union’s failure reflected problems with its organizational strategy, including the support of national politicians and celebrities.
The election was conducted by mail, which is a concession to the pandemic. The workers did not hold elections in just a few days, but had more than a month to complete and mail their ballots, which are set to expire on March 29.
Amazon’s public campaign focused on the benefits and the minimum wage that the company has provided at $15, which is twice the minimum wage in Alabama. It emphasizes internally that workers do not need to pay union membership fees for outstanding work. The company’s slogan “do nothing” was communicated to workers by text messages, mandatory meetings and signs on bathroom booths.
Ms. Omara said that the union’s complaints about job stability and safety have made it more difficult to organize workers. She said this is because the short-term nature of warehousing work “is not conducive to building solidarity and the willingness to invest in the employer and the job.”
Some union leaders said that even if the election campaign held in Bessemer failed, it would raise labor goals.
Sara Nelson, chairman of the Stewardess Association, said that the election caused “a lot of discussion and discussion, and people across the country are hearing that unions are the solution.” “We have been able to have real discussions on the actual work of unions. .”
However, many labor leaders say that the unionization of Amazon is critical to reversing the long-term decline in union membership, which has fallen from the early teens in the early 1980s to more than 6% in the private sector.
They believe that Amazon has the power of more than millions of workers in the various industries in which it operates. They said the company’s dominance forced competitors to adopt its labor practices, which prioritized efficiency.
Appelbaum, chairman of the retail trade union, said in an interview in 2019: “Amazon is changing the industry again and again.” “Amazon’s vision for the world is not a vision we want or can tolerate.” He often referred to the effort to coalition Amazon as a struggle against the “future of work.”
The report was contributed by Noam Scheiber, Sophia June, David McCabe And Miles McKinley.