Fierce resistance to Amazon.com Inc. unions, workers’ skepticism that organization could lead to better deals, and election parameter decisions all work in the company’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. Contributed to the apparently biased defeat of the drive. Said to the event.
Workers’ votes on whether to form a union on Friday failed by more than 2: 1 with a big win for the world’s largest online retailer. The union plans to challenge the outcome based on Amazon’s actions during the election.
Union leaders hoped that a campaign just outside Birmingham would create Amazon’s first organized workplace in the United States and create a new era of worker activity. Instead, it points to the ongoing challenges facing the American labor movement.
Officials at Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) claimed that Amazon’s unfair tactics were condemned in elections where only over half of qualified workers voted.
In a statement, RWDSU said, “The results of the election must be set aside because the actions taken by the employer created an atmosphere of confusion, coercion, and / or fear of retaliation and thus impeded employee freedom of choice. “.
In a blog post, Amazon denied the consequences of threatening employees.
“We have always listened to them, received feedback, made continuous improvements, and invested heavily to provide large salaries and benefits in a safe and comprehensive workplace. “.
The e-commerce company has been campaigning for weeks, pasting anti-union notices on warehouse and bathroom stalls, suspending mandatory employee meetings in elections, and attacking staff with text messages criticizing RWDSU. Did.
In one of the messages Reuters saw, warehouse leaders warned that collective bargaining could result in the loss of workers’ interests. This is what the union is disagreeing with. “Everything is on the table,” the text declared.
According to a former employee of the company’s warehouse, one of the mandatory meetings was a presentation that union leaders used membership fees for inappropriate purposes such as luxury cars and vacations. The union did not immediately comment on the claim.
However, some warehouse workers pointed out the shortcomings of the union movement. Many young workers, lacking union experience and knowledge of labor history, were never persuaded about the benefits of organizing, these people said. Some quoted Amazon’s above average wages and overall better working conditions than other local employers.
“Highly paid work”
Denean Plott, 56, who chose customer orders in the warehouse until March and voted for the union, said: They have great benefits. And the young employee “doesn’t feel the need for a union because he doesn’t endanger his health and safety so much.”
Some cite fear that voting for a union may rather mean a constant battle with management who wants to avoid it.
According to one of the former fulfillment center employees, a group of hard-working warehouse dock employees oppose the union’s efforts and appreciate Amazon’s current benefits, including health insurance at hire. did. According to former employees, these dock workers are also generally skeptical of the union and associate them with corruption.
According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, when only 6.3% of private sector workers were in the union in 2020, union leaders wanted elections to facilitate a resurgence of labor activity. .. The number of union members in the private sector decreased by 428,000 in 2020 compared to the previous year.
A high-profile union-organized drive has failed at a plant in the southern United States operated by Nissan Motor, Volkswagen AG, and aircraft manufacturer Boeing. In each case, like Amazon, union leaders are betting that workers are dissatisfied with their wages. Working conditions will give the union an opportunity to stand on tiptoe with management. In each case, the union was wrong.
The retail union, also Bessemer, was suffering from several challenges that automakers posed to the auto union, formerly known as the UAW. For example, car company officials have emphasized the convictions of several UAW leaders for embezzlement of union funds. William Stokes, a process assistant at Amazon Warehouse, told journalists he was concerned about the union’s actions.
The decisions of other unions may have backfired. In December, Amazon lawyers submitted to regulators a long exhibition depicting thousands of additional individual employees at the Bessemer warehouse, stating that more than the union’s originally proposed 1,500 would need to be allowed to vote. Did. The union later accepted to send ballots to more than 5,800 workers.
Companies often try to pack additional workers into such proposed bargaining units to dilute union support, achieving a majority, according to labor experts, including former members of the US National Labor Relations Board. Making things difficult.
Harry Johnson, Amazon’s leading Morgan Lewis and Bockius LLP partner, said Amazon simply wants to make sure that everyone who does essentially the same job at a fulfillment center has the opportunity to vote. “. He added that in general, additional voters can include temporary workers who do not necessarily have a strong tendency to support the company.
In an interview, RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum said, “The size of the negotiating unit was larger than we thought it was appropriate, but if we didn’t accept it before the vote, we would have to go through several years of proceedings.” Stated.
He said the Bessemer campaign had gained momentum despite Friday’s results. “We brought the labor movement to life,” and “opened the door to the organization of Amazon.”
Defeat the union
Instead of the socially distant face-to-face elections proposed by Amazon, the union succeeded in promoting mail voting. However, the NLRB set a deadline for submitting ballots on March 29, a few weeks after the ballots were mailed. This gave Amazon nearly two more months to attack workers with text messages and other communications and encourage unions to vote against them.
“Time is the weapon that employers use to defeat unions,” said Mark Pierce, Democratic NLRB chairman during the Barack Obama administration.
Concerns over the operation of the United States Postal Service leading up to the November 2020 US presidential election, according to Pierce, are likely to have contributed to allowing weeks between the mailing of ballots and the deadline for return. .. Anyway, he added, the extra time is likely to give Amazon some benefit.
As the vote approached, the union gained support from US lawmakers and President Joe Biden. Vermont Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders and rapper Killer Mike held a rally in Bessemer to support the union movement.
However, some labor advocates, including US MP Andy Levin of Michigan, said the power imbalance between workers and the company was too great to overcome.
“The pressure that a company like Amazon builds on you can feel like a weight of 1,000 pounds on your chest,” Levin wrote on Twitter. “The goal of the company is to create a great deal of pressure, anxiety, fear, and to make workers feel that as long as the union exists, the pressure will never go away.”
The setup of the Amazon warehouse itself may have voted in favor of retailers. It was the size of many soccer fields and was not a social gathering, not to mention the union organizing discussions.
The hustle and bustle of machines obscured people’s voices, desks spread, COVID-19 standardized social distance, and mobile phones were not allowed during hours, current and former workers said. ..
“You may be in the area for hours and not see your soul,” said Plot, one of Amazon’s former employees.
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