Amazon vote: Organisers vow fight isn’t over as Alabama warehouse votes down landmark bid to unionise

Union organisers have vowed to challenge a closely watched union vote at an Amazon facility in Alabama, where a majority of workers who participated in the vote have opposed unionising, based on tallies from The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

The results mark Amazon’s fierce anti-union effort against a dedicated labour organisation among workers and high-profile support from the halls of Congress to the White House.

Workers and organisers have mounted one of the largest challenges yet to the nation’s second-largest retailer, the outcome of which will reverberate across workplaces and other Amazon facilities and mark a turning point for the US labour movement.

More than 3,200 ballots were cast among the roughly 5,800 workers at the sorting facility in Bessemer, a turnout of roughly 55 per cent. Workers voted to determine whether they will join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, what would be the first union within the company’s history.

Ballot counting at the National Labor Relations Board office in Birmingham followed a mail-in voting campaign from February until the end of March. A vote count paused on Thursday evening, with nearly half of the ballots counted, showing 463 ballots supporting unionisation and 1,000 votes against it.

Counting resuming on Friday morning.

“Our system is broken, Amazon took full advantage of that, and we will be calling on the labor board to hold Amazon accountable for its illegal and egregious behavior during the campaign,” RWDSU President Stuart Applebaum said in a statement on Thursday night.

“But make no mistake about it; this still represents an important moment for working people and their voices will be heard,” he said.

The union said that Amazon challenged several hundred ballots which were likely “yes” votes, held aside for a separate adjudication process.

A majority of the ballots were cast in February, according to organisers, before mainstream media attention and visits from members of Congress, celebrities and activists who joined a nationwide campaign to support workers and organisers.

(AFP via Getty Images)

Multiple reports, testimony to Congress and meetings with lawmakers and union organisers have revealed the scope of the company’s union-busting campaign, from messages in bathroom stalls to text messages to workers’ phones and one-on-one messages on the sorting facility floor.

The company also waged a public relations blitz across social media.

On Thursday, reporting from More Perfect Union revealed Amazon’s coordination with the US Postal Service to install a ballot collection box outside the facility on 9 February. The dropbox was installed under an Amazon tent. Organisers and labour activists contend the box placed outside their workplace was used to pressure employees to bring ballots to work that they had received in the mail and vote against the union effort.

The union contends the effort violated labour laws.

Union organisers argue that the NLRB had denied the company’s request for a dropbox on the warehouse property, and that the company went “above the law” in an effort to intimidate workers.

Amazon did not dispute its correspondence with the USPS in a statement to The Independent.

Amazon spokesperson Maria Boschetti told The Independent: “We said from the beginning that we wanted all employees to vote and proposed many different options to try and make it easy. The RWDSU fought those at every turn and pushed for a mail-only election, which the NLRB’s own data showed would reduce turnout. This mailbox – which only the USPS had access to – was a simple, secure, and completely optional way to make it easy for employees to vote, no more and no less.”

The facility in Bessemer opened in early 2020, imprinting a $361 million investment – supported by more than $3 million in tax incentives – into the Deep South. Its workforce is 80 per cent Black.

Workers and organisers have sought better and safer working conditions, including hazard pay provisions and an end to the company’s practice of near-constant worker surveillance.

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