Amazon Workers Vote Against Alabama Union Campaign

Amazon employees at a Bessemer, Alabama warehouse have voted against unionizing the facility’s roughly 5,800-strong workforce.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced that out of 3,041 potentially valid votes, 1,798 workers at logistics center BHM1 had voted against joining a union, while 738 workers voted in favor. (The union had previously reported collecting a total of 3,215 ballots.) Eligibility for 505 ballots was questioned, primarily by Amazon; Because more than half of the total votes opposed unionization, these contested ballots were not opened.

Workers voted in February and March by mail on the possibility of joining the Retail, Wholesale and Large Stores Union (RWDSU), a possibility that Amazon fought with with anti-union rallies and other aggressive measures. BHM1 is just the second US Amazon facility to hold a union vote, after a much smaller group of warehouse techs in Delaware. Had the workers approved the union, it would have become the largest group to gain representation in a single NLRB election since 1991.

The RWDSU says it will appeal the election, requesting a hearing on whether the election results should be set aside. “We will not let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unanswered, which is why we are formally pressing charges against all the heinous and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote,” said RWDSU President Stuart. Appelbaum, in a statement. on Friday. “We demand a thorough investigation into Amazon’s behavior in the corruption of this election.”

Amazon tweeted in support of employees who had voted against the union. “It is easy to predict that the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that is not true,” he said in a press release. “Amazon did not win; our employees made the decision to vote against joining a union.”

Amazon has long resisted unionization and has waged an aggressive campaign at Bessemer. The company hired expensive anti-union consultants and held so-called “captive hearing” meetings, which are mandatory workplace conferences in which unions present negatively. Amazon ran a multi-pronged anti-union ad campaign, which included Facebook ads, banners in warehouses, posters in break rooms and bathrooms, billboards, and a constant barrage of text messages to workers. Supervisors often took workers aside for one-on-one meetings encouraging workers to vote “no.”

These tactics are generally legal under US labor law, which significantly benefits employers. While Amazon enjoyed unrestricted access to employees at the fulfillment center, organizers were not allowed in and instead had to campaign in the parking lot, probing employees as they left. During the campaign, Amazon caused the county to change the hours at a stoplight leading out of the warehouse parking lot, a move the company said was taken to reduce congestion, but which organizers said made its job more difficult.

One possible tactic the union could challenge is Amazon’s push to install a mailbox on the warehouse site. Documents obtained by the union through a request for records revealed that Amazon urged the US Postal Service to install the mailbox when the voting process began. The NLRB had previously rejected Amazon’s request to organize in-person voting at the warehouse, saying that in addition to presenting a COVID-19 risk, it would create the impression that the company had a role in the election. Amazon has said the mailbox was intended to facilitate voting, but the union says it has the potential to intimidate workers and that its instructions that workers send it their ballots constitutes improper ballot collection.

Amazon workers outside of BHM1 have carried out more informal activism, including during the coronavirus pandemic, when employees claimed that Amazon had not disclosed COVID-19 cases and had not provided adequate protective measures. In complaints obtained by the media, the NLRB found that Amazon unlawfully retaliated against some of these workers. The NLRB also found that Amazon acted illegally by firing two workers who pressured it to address its climate impact.

Updated April 9 at 11:30 am ET: Updated vote count and added statement from RWDSU.

Update April 9 at 12:15 pm ET: Vote count updated with final NLRB numbers.

Updated April 9 at 12:40 pm ET: Added statement from Amazon.

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