Amazon workers vote against forming union

Published April 10, 2021
An employee fills a cart full of items at Amazon's JFK8 distribution center in Staten Island, New York on Nov 25, 2020. — Reuters
An employee fills a cart full of items at Amazon's JFK8 distribution center in Staten Island, New York on Nov 25, 2020. — Reuters

BIRMINGHAM (Alab­ama, US): Amazon.com warehouse workers in Alabama voted on Friday against forming a union by a more than 2-to-1 margin — a major win for the retailer. But the union, hoping to reignite the US labor movement, said it would challenge the results, citing election interference.

National Labour Relations Board representatives counted 1,798 votes against forming a union, with 738 ballots in favour. A simple majority was needed for victory.

Both sides have the right to challenge the eligibility of individual ballots and the campaign process, but a ballot count official on a Zoom call of the proceedings announced that there were not enough challenged votes to affect the results.

Amazon shares rose 1.8 percent on Friday, adding to earlier gains.

Union leaders had hoped the election outside Birmingham would spark a new era of worker activism. Appealing to concerns that Amazon was monitoring their every move and associating themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement, organisers told the largely Black workforce a union could get more from the company controlled by the world’s richest man.

The defeat joins high-profile failures to start unions at auto and plane factories in the U.S. South, and illustrates the challenges of organizing a major company. Amazon required workers to attend meetings, for instance.

Still, some employees described relatively good conditions and pay. Amazon offers at least $15.30 an hour, more than twice the federal minimum wage, which applies in Alabama.

“Amazon is not perfect, there are flaws, but we are committed to correcting those flaws and management has been, thus far, on board with us,” William Stokes, an Amazon worker at the Bessemer warehouse said at a panel organised by his employer.

He voted “no” to the union.

The vote was watched across the United States, with President Joe Biden defending workers’ right to form unions during the process.

The US south has been particularly anti-union. Nearly all the states in the area, including Alabama, passed so-called right-to-work laws that curtail unions abilities to mandate dues and other measures.

What’s next?

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which is trying to organise the Amazon employees, said it would file objections, charging that Amazon interfered with the right of employees to vote.

“People should not presume that the results of this vote are in any way a validation of Amazons working conditions and the way it treats its employees, quite the contrary.

The results demonstrate the powerful impact of employee intimidation and interference,” Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU Presid­ent, told a news conference after counting ended.

“We contend that they broke the law repeatedly in their no-holds-barred effort to stop workers from forming a union.

The dispute likely will play out before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and then in federal appeals court.

Union membership has been declining steadily, falling to 11 percent of the eligible workforce in 2020 from 20% in 1983, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2021

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