Amazon has prevailed in the union vote and fended off an attempt to set up the company’s first US union, but labor advocates remain hopeful of building on the high profile fight to bring about broader change, CNN reported.
Amazon Wins Vote Against Unionization
The final vote tally in Amazon’s 1,798 vs 738 win was a decisive rejection of unionization according to commentators.
According to the union that had been pushing the issue, it intended to file objections and charges of unfair labor practices with the labor board, but it also added that Amazon gamed a broken system, one that tilted in employers favor.
According to commentators, the sentiment could help gain support for the union-friendly Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, that Democrats reintroduced and passed in the House this year. It included provisions for facilitating formation of workers’ unions, as also empowering the National Labor Relations Board for fining employers when they violated labor rights, a power it currently did not have.
According to Rebecca Givan, an associate professor at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations who spoke to CNN Business, the Bessemer election demonstrated that under the current labor law unionization was impossible. She said lawmakers would come under increasing pressure to intervene to give workers a voice on the job. She added the PRO Act was supporting the rights of working people, and politicians who claimed to be on the side of working people would be asked to support fixing the broken labor law.
According to commentators, the Bessemer union effort helped focus national attention with politicians and celebrities — including President Joe Biden – weighing in with their support to workers. The spotlight helped bring into sharp relief the tactics employed by Amazon to convey its stance, some of which would be barred under the PRO Act passed.
Before the election, which was conducted by mail due to the pandemic, over two months, Amazon, in its effort to counter the unionization bid, held one-on-one meetings with workers on the floor of the warehouse and had them attend group meetings (captive audience meetings) in which the company pitched its anti-union narrative every few shifts, the union and workers had told CNN Business earlier.
The company launched a website to counter the union wherein it warned against payment of dues, despite Alabama being a right-to-work state, so the union would not get the workers’ support. Furthermore, numerous text messages called on workers to cast a no vote. Responding to a question on the anti-union campaign, an Amazon spokesperson termed it education that helped employees understand the facts about joining a union.
Clarifying the objections raised, Amazon, in a lengthy statement following the tally results Friday stated that claims that it had intimidated workers were not true. Amazon said that the union, policymakers, and media outlets pitched far more anti-Amazon messages at its employees, than from the company. It further added that Amazon did not win the employees vote no to the union.
However, Stuart Appelbaum, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union president which coordinated the drive, told CNN Business on Friday that he had a different take. He added, there were no real consequences, in reference to the inability of the NLRB to fine employers. He said the PRO Act would provide consequences and make it very difficult for the company to do what it did.
He added people were shocked to learn about captive audience meetings and what employers could do, and it underlined the need to understand the inappropriate pressure Amazon put on individuals. He added that President Biden’s speech supporting the Bessemer workers signaled that union efforts needed to be about the choice of workers not the employer.
“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” Biden said in late February.
Union-backers cast Friday’s election defeat as part of a sweeping beginning, not an end. Appelbaum said the RWDSU has been in touch with other Amazon workers around the country, implying future clashes with Amazon may be ahead. He predicted the Bessemer workers will eventually vote again someday and likened the organizing effort to the civil rights movement.
Michigan Congressman Andy Levin, a former labor organizer, said in a statement Friday that Amazon “won recognition as the very symbol of corporate oppression of worker voice, of income and wealth inequality, and of the dehumanization of work. They won themselves a battle to help Amazon workers organize not just in Bessemer but nationwide.”
“Without knowing it, they are igniting a movement to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act,” he added.
At least one of Amazon’s Bessemer workers who voted in support of the union sees the silver lining. At a union press conference following the final results Friday, Emmit Ashford still had hope for the future.
“We had to lose this election in Bessemer for people across the United States to succeed,” he said. “Our time will come around again, and next time, we will win.”