Alabama Amazon workers reject high-profile union drive

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama voted overwhelmingly against unionizing as the final ballots were counted Friday, marking the defeat of a high-profile drive to establish the first union at the e-commerce giant and testing the pro-union politics of President Joe Biden, who implicitly sided with the organizing effort.

The vote was 1,798-738 against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Nearly 6,000 workers at the fulfillment center in Bessemer, a Birmingham suburb, were eligible and roughly more than half cast ballots.

The union says it plans to challenge the results of the election and ask the National Labor Relations Board to consider setting the vote aside, alleging Amazon “created an atmosphere” that interfered “with the employees’ freedom of choice.”

“We demand a comprehensive investigation over Amazon’s behavior in corrupting this election,” the union said in a statement.

Amazon battled the organizing effort but denied any interference or wrongdoing in the election. Among other things, the company touted its $15 hourly minimum wage to argue a union wasn’t needed.

The vote spanned seven weeks, beginning in February, and the NLRB spent nearly two weeks tallying the ballots, after disputes over ineligible voters slowed the process. Around 500 of the 3,215 ballots cast in the election were challenged and nearly 400 of the objections were raised by Amazon, according to a union spokesperson.

The union drive at the facility caught the attention of Washington, D.C., and put significant pressure on Biden to voice his support for workers exercising their collective bargaining rights.

Biden eventually released a 2 1/2-minute video in early March backing the workers — which was billed by union leaders as “the most pro-union statement from a president” in history — although he omitted the name of the powerful e-commerce giant from his remarks.

The union says that despite the loss in Alabama it won’t stop working to organize workers at large retailers like Amazon.

Democrats and national union leaders say the election result demonstrates the need for Congress to strengthen federal labor law, pointing to efforts Amazon used to dissuade workers from joining the union.

Jennifer Bates, a worker at the Bessemer fulfillment center, told lawmakers during a Senate Budget Committee hearing in March that she was required to go to “union education meetings” hosted by the company, sometimes “several times a week,” that pushed anti-union messages. She said management put “anti-union signs and messages” all around the facility and even sent messages to workers’ phones.

Some of that activity would be prohibited under a broad labor overhaul bill being pushed by congressional Democrats and Biden.

Business groups staunchly oppose the legislation, saying it would make them less competitive.

The union says it will file unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB to hold Amazon accountable for “illegal” actions it took to sideline the union drive.

“Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees,” RWDSU’s Stuart Appelbaum said. “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.”

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Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama voted overwhelmingly against unionizing as the final ballots were counted Friday, marking the defeat of a high-profile drive to establish the first union at the e-commerce giant and testing the pro-union politics of President Joe Biden, who implicitly sided with the organizing effort.

The vote was 1,798-738 against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Nearly 6,000 workers at the fulfillment center in Bessemer, a Birmingham suburb, were eligible and roughly more than half cast ballots.

The union says it plans to challenge the results of the election and ask the National Labor Relations Board to consider setting the vote aside, alleging Amazon “created an atmosphere” that interfered “with the employees’ freedom of choice.”

“We demand a comprehensive investigation over Amazon’s behavior in corrupting this election,” the union said in a statement.

Amazon battled the organizing effort but denied any interference or wrongdoing in the election. Among other things, the company touted its $15 hourly minimum wage to argue a union wasn’t needed.

The vote spanned seven weeks, beginning in February, and the NLRB spent nearly two weeks tallying the ballots, after disputes over ineligible voters slowed the process. Around 500 of the 3,215 ballots cast in the election were challenged and nearly 400 of the objections were raised by Amazon, according to a union spokesperson.

The union drive at the facility caught the attention of Washington, D.C., and put significant pressure on Biden to voice his support for workers exercising their collective bargaining rights.

Biden eventually released a 2 1/2-minute video in early March backing the workers — which was billed by union leaders as “the most pro-union statement from a president” in history — although he omitted the name of the powerful e-commerce giant from his remarks.

The union says that despite the loss in Alabama it won’t stop working to organize workers at large retailers like Amazon.

Democrats and national union leaders say the election result demonstrates the need for Congress to strengthen federal labor law, pointing to efforts Amazon used to dissuade workers from joining the union.

Jennifer Bates, a worker at the Bessemer fulfillment center, told lawmakers during a Senate Budget Committee hearing in March that she was required to go to “union education meetings” hosted by the company, sometimes “several times a week,” that pushed anti-union messages. She said management put “anti-union signs and messages” all around the facility and even sent messages to workers’ phones.

Some of that activity would be prohibited under a broad labor overhaul bill being pushed by congressional Democrats and Biden.

Business groups staunchly oppose the legislation, saying it would make them less competitive.

The union says it will file unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB to hold Amazon accountable for “illegal” actions it took to sideline the union drive.

“Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees,” RWDSU’s Stuart Appelbaum said. “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.”

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