Amazon Workers Vote Down Union
April 14, 2021
The NLRB announced on Friday, April 9, that workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, distribution center voted 1,798 to 738 against unionization in a mail-ballot vote. About 500 challenged ballots have not been counted, and 76 ballots were void due to voter error, but neither is substantial enough to change the outcome. This was the first union election at an Amazon warehouse since 2014, when technicians in Delaware also voted against unionizing.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union promises to file legal challenges to the election and charges of unfair labor practices (violations of the National Labor Relations Act, the federal law that regulates such elections). The union requested a hearing to determine if the results of the election should be set aside because Amazon “created an atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals and thus interfered with the employees’ freedom of choice.” Specifically, the union alleges Amazon spread “mistruths and lies” during mandatory anti-union meetings, disseminated a “flood” of misleading ads on “the internet, the airwaves and social media,” and unlawfully installed a ballot collection mailbox outside the Bessemer facility. There were also reports Amazon had the timing of the traffic lights outside the facility altered to prevent picketers from interacting with employees driving into the facility.
Why Should Employers Care?
This election and the magnitude of the union’s effort is a sign of things to come. Amazon is the second-largest private employer in the United States with 800,000 employees, and 1.3 million worldwide. The Bessemer facility alone employs over 6,000 workers. This union push was the most consequential in the last decade, with endorsements from several celebrities as well as political figures such as Senator Bernie Sanders and President Joe Biden, among others.
Despite the past months of a national media push for unionization of major multinational corporations, it is not surprising that the Bessemer push failed. Unions typically have trouble with larger bargaining units (the group of employees who are voting), particularly in southern states; Alabama is one of 27 “right-to-work” states where workers do not have to pay dues to unions that represent them. More significantly, union participation has been declining for decades in the United States. Recently it has been hovering just over six percent in the United States. While the union’s loss at Bessemer is a great result for management, it would be a mistake to become complacent.
Employers should remember the win for management at Bessemer did not come cheap. The resources the company spent on attorneys, labor consultants, and defense initiatives – not to mention the amount of business lost because employees were distracted and often pulled away from their jobs – were assuredly enormous. The key to keeping unions at bay is not winning these elections but rather avoiding them. If you are a business owner and are not focusing on maintaining a positive labor relations plan now, then you are putting your company at risk for future union activity and lawsuits. Take Bessemer as a lesson: you could be next. Moreover, if you do not have the resources of Amazon, winning could be a lot harder.
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