On March 30 voting ended for Amazon workers who were hoping to join the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union (RWDSU) at the Bessemer Alabama Distribution Center. While the mail-in vote ended on March 30, the vote count took over a week to complete, and included hundreds of challenged ballots, mostly from Amazon challenging the vote. In the end, the union lost the vote by more than a two-to-one margin, with 738 workers voting to unionize and 1798 voting not to.
In the weeks leading up to and during the voting period, Amazon pulled out all the stops and engaged in an intense and well-funded union-busting effort. According to the RWDSU, Amazon violated the National Labor Relations Act more than 50 times during the effort to unionize. RWDSU has since filed many charges and is attempting to get a new election, saying the first election was spoiled by the violations. While many of the violations that Amazon committed may be found true by the NLRB, the reality is that elections are very rarely overturned and in most cases the settlements ordered by the NLRB are things like the company being required to hang a notice stating that they broke the law and informing workers of their legal rights going forward, or other similar slap-on-the-wrist level remedies.
Some of the companies union-busting tactics included things like lobbying local officials successfully to have the timing on a stoplight shortened in front of the Amazon facility so that union supporters would have less time to talk to workers coming and going from the job. Amazon also got many employees to quit with $1000 bribes in an attempt to get those people to leave the job and not be eligible to vote in the election. The company ran an aggressive campaign of mandatory meetings, texting workers sometimes as much as five times a day, posting fear-mongering literature against unions in the bathrooms, and reportedly threatening employees if they supported the union, including threatening that the facility might close if the union vote went through.
While this election turned out to be a loss, organizing in Amazon continues to be seen as a major priority for many in the U.S. labor movement and it is likely that more efforts will be made to form unions in the Amazon’s hundreds of U.S. locations.
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