Amazon roundly defeats effort to unionise warehouse in Bessemer Alabama in battle that drew international attention to company’s labour policies
Amazon has roundly defeated a high-profile effort to unionise a warehouse in Alabama, following a months-long campaign against the organisation drive.
Workers at the Bessemer, Alabama facility voted 1,798 to 738 against the project, according to US labour officials.
The vote was considered a test of whether it might be possible to organise workers at Amazon, the US’ second-largest employer, which has remained union-free in the country to date.
Union officials had hoped that workers might be open to the idea after the pandemic focused worldwide attention on working conditions at Amazon.
But Amazon mounted a campaign aimed turning workers against the union effort, including mandatory meetings, posters throughout the Bessemer facility and other elements.
The company’s message, crafted by anti-union consultants, communicated the idea that unionisation meant uncertainty and told staff they might have to pay hundreds of dollars in dues every year without any guaranteed improvement in their conditions.
In September 2020 Amazon landed itself in hot water over two job adverts for “intelligence analysts”, who would be responsible for reporting on activities “including labour organising threats against the company”.
Amazon said the adverts were badly worded and withdrew them, but credence was added to the suspicion it was hiring people to spy on unionising activity.
Amazon told Time magazine the vote against third-party representation showed that staff “prefer a direct connection with Amazon”.
“We’re not perfect, but we’re proud of our team and what we offer, and will keep working to get better every day,” Amazon said in a statement.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) said it would challenge the result, arguing Amazon had interfered with employees’ right to a “free and fair election”.
“Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees,” said RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum.
“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 said it was “not true” that it had intimidated staff, and said employees had heard more anti-Amazon messages from the union, lawmakers and media outlets than anti-union messages from Amazon.
Industry watchers pointed out that the union faced a number of obstacles in Alabama – one being that Amazon’s wages are amongst the highest in the state for unskilled workers.
In states with a higher cost of living, such as California and New York, however, Amazon’s pay is “barely a living wage” and workers might be far more open to organisation, said Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter.
The RWDSU said it had received more than a thousand inquiries about organising from Amazon workers at other facilities since the Alabama effort began, reflecting the attention focused on the drive.
“Despite going up against one of the world’s richest men in a country with weak labor laws, the workers in Bessemer brought national attention to issues that many non-union workers face in this industry,” said Randy Korgan, national director for the Teamsters union.
At a press conference organised by Amazon, anti-union workers said a union was unnecessary at the facility.
“We’re not against unions – we just feel like at this facility in Bessemer, we don’t need a union,” said Will Stokes.
‘Only a matter of time’
Pro-union workers at Bessemer had cited complained of issues such as intrusive monitoring and abrupt, impersonal treatment by management.
The company said it would review concerns with workers over the next 100 days, such as the need to give managers more training.
Pro-union workers said they would continue working to organise.
“Things will not stay the same after this point,” said Emmit Ashford. “It’s only a matter of time before things change.”
Most of Amazon’s facilities in Europe are unionised, and the company has recently faced strike actions in France, Germany and Italy.