Alabama Amazon workers voted against joining a union. But according to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, Amazon influenced its outcome.
The union announced it would file objections to the conduct of the election under Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. The fight to organize workers at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala. ended with 1,798 “no” votes, 738 “yes” votes, 76 “void” ballots and 505 uncounted ballots that were challenged by RWDSU officials. The NLRB said, in a statement, that their challenges aren’t sufficient in numbers to alter the outcome of the vote.
According to the union, more than 3,000 workers (out of 5,876 eligible workers) cast ballots in the election. RWDSU believes that the retail giant interfered with its employees’ right to vote in a free and fair election that is protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.
Union officials accused Amazon of leading an intimidation effort in the hopes of influencing the vote.
RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said that the results should be taken with a grain of salt.
“Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees,” stated 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 knew full well that unless they did everything they possibly could, even illegal activity, their workers would have continued supporting the union.”
According to a report from the Washington Post, emails obtained by the RWDSU after a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Amazon leadership pushed the U.S. Postal Service to install a mailbox right outside of the Bessemer warehouse.
Back in January, Amazon made a motion to request a stay of the union election and appealed the decision by NLRB Region 10. The board denied both motions which set forth the process of the vote.
Amazon workers complained about how using the restroom and stretching were counted towards “time off task” (TOT), how the company tracked how many packages each individual worker scanned, and how they were given an automated write-up every 30 minutes.
During the past several months, Amazon workers have received public support from elected officials, the NFL Players Association, the Writers Guild of America East and West (including Tina Fey) and U.S. President Joe Biden. Biden’s support of the union was the first time a president outwardly advocated for a union election.
“This goes to show what happens when our woefully outdated labor laws allow corporations to get away with blatantly illegal union-busting activity, knowing the worst they’ll receive is a slap on the wrist,” said Alabama AFL-CIO President Bren Riley after the unveiling of the results. “Hell, for Jeff Bezos, a few thousand dollars charged by the National Labor Relations Board is what he makes in a matter of seconds.”
But Bezos and company are pushing back against the allegations.
“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true,” read their statement. “Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us. And Amazon didn’t win—our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union. Our employees are the heart and soul of Amazon, and we’ve always worked hard to listen to them, take their feedback, make continuous improvements, and invest heavily to offer great pay and benefits in a safe and inclusive workplace.
“We’re not perfect, but we’re proud of our team and what we offer, and will keep working to get better every day.”
As for the accusations that the company interfered in the vote, an Amazon spokesperson stated that everything was copacetic with the voting process.
“We respect our employees’ right to join, form, or not to join a labor union or other lawful organization of their own selection, without fear of reprisal, intimidation, or harassment,” said the spokesperson. “We followed all NLRB rules and guidelines as it relates to union campaigns.”
Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN, said that Amazon’s actions reveal how fear and intimidation are part of the daily fabric of its business model.
“The Black-led organizing drive in Bessemer only shows that workers across the country are coming together and rising up against unfair working conditions, constant surveillance, and abuse of power,” said Silva-Farrell.
Kyle Bragg, president of 32BJ SEIU, compared the labor fight to another fight and discussed how Amazon hasn’t yet silenced its workers in Alabama and around the country.
“Amazon workers nationwide will continue to organize because they know we have a broken economy, where workers’ hours go up while their wages and benefits go down,” stated Bragg. “COVD-19 and rising inequality have laid bare how sorely workers across industries want and need unions. Joining a union is often unnecessarily difficult.
“In most states, it is easier to buy an AR-15 than it is to join a union.”