Amazon’s first union vote failed, but labor activists aren’t giving up

Jeff Bezos Amazon
  • The International Brotherhood of Teamsters will vote Thursday about organizing Amazon workers, Vice reports.
  • Amazon defeated efforts to unionize its Bessemer, Alabama warehouse earlier this year.
  • Amazon has a history of campaigning heavily against unionization efforts.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon is used to unions trying to organize its workers. And while there hasn’t been any success in unionizing US warehouse workers and or delivery drivers, activists aren’t giving up just yet.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters will vote Thursday on a decision to organize Amazon workers, labeling their efforts the “Amazon Project,” Vice’s Motherboard reported and CNBC confirmed.

The Teamsters union is one of the largest in the country. It consists largely of truck drivers and warehouse workers but has also organized workers in “virtually every occupation imaginable, both professional and non-professional, private sector and public sector,” it says.

The push comes just months after Amazon defeated efforts to unionize its warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.

The company aggressively campaigned against the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU)’s efforts, and it paid off for the online retailer with 1,798 votes against the union and 738 votes for the union.

For labor organizers, establishing a union at Amazon – one of the largest retailers and most valuable companies in the world – would be a significant milestone.

“We’ve been working on this for quite some time-well before Bessemer broke out,” Randy Korgan, Teamsters National Director for Amazon, told Vice’s Motherboard.

“We understand transportation and logistics companies that are only motivated by profit will make changes that always end in workers losing,” Kroger told Motherboard. “There’s been one unified organization for those workers and that’s been Teamsters members and the Teamsters union as a whole.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Amazon exec Dave Clark pushed USPS to install mailbox now at center of union election controversy

Mailbox Amazon Bessemer
The mailbox outside the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer.

Amazon consumer CEO Dave Clark led the company’s push to persuade the US Postal Service to install a controversial temporary mailbox outside Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, during a recent union election, multiple outlets reported Monday.

“Please let me know where we stand on this — this is a highly visible Dave Clark initiative,” Becky Moore, an Amazon senior manager, said in a January email to USPS officials presented at a National Labor Relations Board hearing Monday, according to Bloomberg.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Jay Smith, a USPS official in charge of managing major accounts including Amazon, also testified to the NLRB that it was the first time he was aware of the agency installing such a mailbox at the request of a private company, Bloomberg reported.

Photos of the mailbox showed that modifications made by the USPS to accommodate more outgoing ballots could potentially have allowed a recipient assigned to an adjacent incoming mailbox to access the outgoing mail, according to Bloomberg.

Last week, Amazon employee Kevin Jackson testified that he saw the company’s security guards use keys to access that outgoing mail slot, but Amazon denied those allegations, Bloomberg previously reported.

Amazon’s employees voted against unionizing in April. But the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, under which employees would have unionized, filed official objections to the NLRB, claiming Amazon violated labor laws during its anti-union campaign.

The NLRB agreed to hold a hearing to determine whether Amazon acted illegally and whether a new election should be held.

The RWDSU specifically objected to Amazon’s push to convince the USPS to install the mailbox – which came despite the NLRB rejecting Amazon’s requests to force employees to vote in-person – saying the mailbox “provided a clear ability to intimidate workers.”

Amazon previously told Insider the box was an effort to allow workers to vote more easily.

The Washington Post reported last month that the USPS only decided to install the mailbox after repeated requests from Amazon corporate employees, but testimony and evidence presented during the multi-day NLRB hearing has shed more light on Amazon’s tactics.

Smith also testified that the USPS explicitly told Amazon not to place anything around the mailbox that suggested it was where employees needed to vote, CNBC reported. Yet Amazon proceeded to place a tent around the mailbox that read: “Speak for yourself! Mail your ballot here.”

“I was surprised because I was asked, ‘Can anything physical be put on the box?'” Smith said, according to CNBC, adding: “I said no. I did not want to see anything else put around that box indicating that it was a vote.”

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US labor board to hold hearing on whether to redo Amazon union election based on evidence submitted by union

amazon rwdsu BESSEMER, AL - MARCH 29: An RWDSU union rep holds a sign outside the Amazon fulfillment warehouse at the center of a unionization drive on March 29, 2021 in Bessemer, Alabama. Employees at the fulfillment center are currently voting on whether to form a union, a decision that could have national repercussions. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, voted against forming a union, but the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, under which they would have unionized, challenged the results.

  • The National Labor Relations Board will hold a hearing on whether to redo the Amazon union vote in Bessemer, Alabama.
  • Amazon employees there voted against unionizing, but the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union challenged the results.
  • The NLRB said the union’s evidence warranted a hearing to consider whether Amazon acted illegally and whether a new election should be held.
  • Amazon has denied any wrongdoing.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday said evidence submitted by the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union concerning Amazon’s conduct during a union vote in Bessemer, Alabama, justified holding a hearing to review the evidence and determine whether to redo the election.

“The evidence submitted by the union in support of its objections could be grounds for overturning the election if introduced at a hearing,” the NLRB said.

The NLRB’s ruling clears the way for a hearing, which it plans to hold on May 7, where it will review the RWDSU’s evidence. If the NLRB finds Amazon illegally interfered in the election, it can void the results and re-run the election.

Amazon has denied any wrongdoing.

The RWDSU, the union which Amazon’s employees voted on whether to join, failed to secure enough votes from Amazon warehouse workers to form a union in a highly publicized election earlier this month.

When the NLRB publicly announced the vote count on April 9, the tally was 1,798 votes against unionizing and 738 votes for the union, with 505 ballots challenged and 76 ballots voided – 70.9% of valid votes counted were against the union.

But the RWDSU subsequently filed 23 objections against Amazon and how it acted during the contentious March election, claiming Amazon’s conduct prevented employees from having a “free and uncoerced exercise of choice” on which way to vote. The RWDSU alleged Amazon’s agents unlawfully threatened employees with closure of the warehouse if they joined the union and that the company emailed a warning it would lay off 75% of the proposed bargaining unit because of the union.

An Amazon spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the NLRB’s statement.

At the May 7 hearing, the NLRB would have the option to overturn the election results if any evidence of illegal action is ruled credible.

(Reuters reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Chris Reese)

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Union objects to Amazon election and accuses the company of threatening layoffs ahead of the vote. Amazon says it followed all laws.

Amazon Bessemer warehouse
Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer.

  • The union that Amazon workers voted against joining in Bessemer, AL, filed objections against Amazon.
  • The union vote in Bessemer failed to pass, with over 70% of valid ballots voting against unionizing.
  • Amazon said the union is “misrepresenting the facts.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama voted against forming a union, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union has filed 23 objections to Amazon’s conduct during the voting period.

The union said the objections merit an investigation and it is seeking to toss out the result of the union vote. Amazon has said it followed all laws in its communication with workers on the union effort.

The RWDSU is the union that would have represented Amazon workers if the vote had passed. At the close of the vote count on April 9, the valid votes were overwhelmingly against joining the union, with 70.9% voting no. The final vote count was 1,798 votes against forming a union and 738 votes for forming a union, with 505 challenged ballots and 76 voided ballots.

In its filing to the National Labor Relations Board, the RWDSU accused Amazon of threatening to close its facility or lay off workers if they voted to form a union. The RWDSU also accused Amazon of intimidating workers and alleged that Amazon “terminated a Union supporter for passing out union authorization cards in non-working areas.”

Amazon said the RWDSU is “misrepresenting the facts.”

“The fact is that less than 16% of employees at BHM1 voted to join a union,” an Amazon spokesperson told Insider in a statement. “Rather than accepting these employees’ choice, the union seems determined to continue misrepresenting the facts in order to drive its own agenda. We look forward to the next steps in the legal process.”

In filing the objections, the RWDSU is asking the NLRB to schedule a hearing to determine if Amazon “created an atmosphere of confusion, coercion, and/or fear of reprisals.”

The next step in the objection procedure is for the NLRB to review the objections. If the objections are found to be credible, the NLRB will issue a formal complaint. The objections would then be examined at a hearing, unless Amazon and the RWDSU were to reach a settlement.

It is common for unions to file similar objections in the wake of failed union elections. In fact, such charges are filed in 41.5% of all union election campaigns, according to the Economic Policy Institute. EPI did not track how many of these charges that the National Labor Relations Board ultimately found to be merited, resulting in further investigation.

Amazon previously told Insider in a statement that “it’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true.” The company stressed that “employees made the choice to vote against joining a union.”

In his final letter to shareholders as CEO, Jeff Bezos addressed the Bessemer vote, saying he didn’t “take comfort” in the outcome.

“I think we need to do a better job for our employees,” he said. “While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees – a vision for their success.”

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Jeff Bezos downplays claims that Amazon workers are ‘desperate souls’ or ‘robots’ who can’t take bathroom breaks, but admits the company needs to ‘do a better job’ for employees after their failed union push

jeff bezos
Jeff Bezos, president and CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, speaks at the Economic Club of Washington DC’s “Milestone Celebration Dinner” in Washington, U.S., September 13, 2018.

  • Jeff Bezos defended Amazon employees’ working conditions in his 2020 letter to shareholders.
  • Bezos said workers are inaccurately portrayed as “desperate souls” and “robots” in news reports.
  • But after the failed Alabama union vote, Amazon needs to “do a better job” for workers, Bezos said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Jeff Bezos is on the defensive about how Amazon treats its employees following the failed union vote at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse.

In Bezos’ 2020 letter to shareholders, his final letter as CEO of Amazon, he discussed Amazon’s relationship with its employees after workers voted against forming a union last week, a vote that Bezos called “lopsided.”

The vote count, which finished last Friday afternoon, showed that 1,798 employees had voted against unionizing and 738 had voted for the union. While over 500 votes were challenged and 76 votes were voided, 70.9% of the valid votes were against the union.

In his letter, Bezos said he feels Amazon’s direct relationship with employees is strong, but that the company needs “a better vision for how we create value for employees – a vision for their success.”

“Does your Chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer? No, he doesn’t,” Bezos wrote. “I think we need to do a better job for our employees.”

Read more: Jeff Bezos responds to employee question about his resignation as CEO, says Amazon can ‘out-survive any individual in the company, including, of course, myself’

Bezos also indirectly discussed the controversy surrounding Amazon’s Twitter spat last month. In response to a tweet from Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan about working conditions at Amazon, Amazon’s Twitter account wrote: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”

The tweet sparked an uproar among employees, mostly Amazon delivery drivers, who said that peeing in bottles is an “inhumane” yet common part of the job. Insider also spoke with several drivers who said that they’ve had to poop in bags and struggled to change menstrual pads during their shift, in addition to peeing in bottles.

According to James Bloodworth, a British author who went undercover at an Amazon fulfillment center in 2018, warehouse employees were scolded for taking bathroom breaks. He told Insider at the time that he found bottles of pee while on the job.

In his letter, Bezos called news reports about how Amazon employees are treated inaccurate, claiming that workers are portrayed as “desperate souls” and “robots.” He highlighted the informal break time that employees are able to take during their shifts to “stretch, get water, use the rest room, or talk to a manager,” which he said don’t impact performance. These breaks are in addition to a lunch break and other break workers get during their shifts, Bezos said.

Bezos also pushed back against the notion that employees are held to unachievable performance goals, which was a main theme in the union push: Workers told Insider they were unfairly punished for taking “time off task,” or time away from their workstations.

But Bezos said that performance is evaluated over a long period of time and employees are provided with coaching if they’re not meeting their goals.

“We don’t set unreasonable performance goals,” he said. “We set achievable performance goals that take into account tenure and actual employee performance data. Performance is evaluated over a long period of time as we know that a variety of things can impact performance in any given week, day, or hour.”

Bezos’ comments come amid increasing pressure on Amazon from all sides, particularly from lawmakers. Amazon’s Alabama union vote drew the attention of Sen. Bernie Sanders and President Joe Biden, who publicly supported the workers attempting to unionize and criticized Amazon’s aggressive campaign against the union. The company has also been the subject of antitrust scrutiny over the last year, with government leaders questioning Amazon’s power and influence.

As the pressure mounts, Bezos, who testified before Congress for the first time last year, will step aside as CEO in the third quarter of 2021 and will be replaced by AWS CEO Andy Jassy.

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The Amazon unionizing battle follows a familiar pattern as union accuses the company of ‘illegal and egregious’ actions

Amazon Alabama union sign solidarity protest
A protester at a solidarity event with the Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama.

  • Amazon defeated a union drive at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.
  • The union working with employees will file objections against Amazon’s “blatantly illegal actions.”
  • Companies are accused of illegal union activity in more than 41% of union drives, according to data.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As votes against forming a union at an Amazon warehouse Bessemer, Alabama outnumber pro-union ballots in an apparent landslide victory, organizers are blaming a broken system.

On Friday, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced it will file official objections with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) “against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote.”

“Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees. We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged,” RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement.

Read more: Leaked Amazon documents detail a controversial system that insiders say forces managers to give bad reviews to good employees

Amazon has said it followed the law in its communication with workers on the union effort.

“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true,” Amazon said in a statement on Friday. “Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us. And Amazon didn’t win – our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union.”

The RWDSU is the union that Amazon workers would join if they vote in favor of a union. It has called out a number of Amazon’s actions throughout the union drive, such as holding anti-union meetings and reportedly pushing the US Postal Service to install a mailbox where workers could vote.

The RWDSU will likely use some of Amazon’s anti-union efforts as ammunition to challenge the result of the vote. Appelbaum told The Washington Post that Amazon installed the mailbox “because it provided a clear ability to intimidate workers.”

Amazon has defended its actions, saying in a statement to Insider that the “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.”

According to experts, the battle between Amazon and the RWDSU is playing out like many other union drives.

Companies are accused of illegal anti-union activity in more than 40% of union drives

Charges are filed accusing employers of illegal anti-union activity in 41.5% of all union election campaigns, according to the Economic Policy Institute. EPI did not track how many of these charges that the National Labor Relations Board ultimately found to be merited, resulting in further investigation.

“It’s fairly common for there to be unfair labor practice charges at the end of a contentious election like this,” John Logan, a labor and employment professor at San Francisco State University, previously told Insider.

Charges don’t prove a company has broken the law.

Once an unfair labor practice charge is filed, NLRB staff investigate the claim to determine whether it has enough merit to lodge a formal complaint against the employer. If the NLRB issues a complaint, the case then goes to a hearing unless a settlement is reached first.

This is how the process that will play out if the RWDSU follows through on filing unfair labor practice charges against Amazon related to the Alabama union drive.

According to Celine McNicholas, the director of government affairs at the Economic Policy Institute, the NLRB process is ineffective in clamping down on illegal anti-union activity, because punishments are relatively minor for violating related labor laws.

For example, if an employer illegally fires a worker for organizing, a company is only responsible for back pay – not further fines or damages.

“It’s a broken system,” McNicholas said. “There is very little reason not to push the envelope and risk a violation of the law.”

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Amazon’s victory against a union drive in Alabama proved workers want better workplaces, but America’s labor laws are too broken to help them get that, experts say

alabama amazon warehouse unionization 2x1
Amazon faces a historic union vote in Alabama.

After one of the most high-profile union – and anti-union – campaigns in recent history, Amazon employees in Bessemer, Alabama, voted overwhelmingly against unionizing, with the National Labor Relations Board confirming Friday that 71% of eligible ballots were cast in opposition.

But eight labor experts told Insider that focusing on the vote tally misses the bigger takeaway from this saga: that American workers are demanding better workplaces and a voice on the job, and America’s current labor laws simply aren’t designed to help them accomplish that goal.

Still, they said, Bessemer put a spotlight on how stacked the deck is against workers, and that the broad, diverse public support for the union drive showed the US labor movement is gaining more steam than it has in decades.

Amazon, which had aggressively opposed the union effort, undoubtedly won a significant battle this week (pending likely legal challenges from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union). But it may have put a target on its back that could prove costly in what’s likely to be an ongoing war over how companies treat their workers, the experts said.

The fight was never going to be fair

Amazon responded to the vote Friday by saying its “employees made the choice to vote against joining a union” and that it was glad their “collective voices were finally heard.”

But experts said that misrepresents what has happened since November, when Bessemer employees officially asked the NLRB to hold a union election.

“The result reflects the imbalance in current US labor law, rather than any genuine expression of whether workers would like to have more of a voice in their workplace,” Rebecca Givan, an associate labor and employment professor at Rutgers University, told Insider.

“This demonstrates just how hard it is for workers to gain a voice on the job when the employer has unlimited resources, full access to workers all day long, and very few legal constraints on what it can do or say,” she said.

Over the past several decades, American executives and politicians have chipped away at labor laws and workers’ right to organize, experts said. At the same time, companies have kept American workers’ pay and benefits down, and shipped jobs overseas where labor is cheaper – even as workers’ productivity, as well as corporate profits and executive pay, have soared.

In European counties, like France, where labor laws more heavily favor workers, some Amazon employees have been able to successfully unionize. That has paid dividends: in July, Amazon gave its French employees a 1.6% permanent raise following union negotiations.

In Bessemer, workers had a much tougher road to travel.

“Unions lose in 90% of the cases when management opposes the organizing effort,” which Amazon’s management did, Tom Kochan, a professor of management at MIT, told Insider.

That’s depite a surge in pro-union sentiment in the US in recent years. Kochan’s research in 2017 found that around 48% of non-union workers would join one if they had the opportunity, while a Gallup poll from August found that 65% of Americans approve of unions – the highest percentage in nearly 20 years.

But under US labor law, companies have lots of tools at their disposal to try to prevent employees from unionizing, from forcing them to listen to anti-union messaging in “captive-audience” meetings, to having a significant say over which employees are eligible to unionize in the first place. Even when companies violate those laws, the NLRB, which oversees union elections, lacks the power to issue fines, which experts said gives companies little incentive to play fair.

“The most important story is not the fact that the union didn’t win. Rather, it’s that they got as close to winning as they did,” Erin Hatton, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Buffalo whose research focuses on work and labor movements, told Insider.

“Through legal coercion and illegal tactics, employers spend a great deal of money to keep unions out and it usually works. So this outcome isn’t all that surprising. And yet the workers were incredibly successful in so many ways,” she said.

Anti-union tactics in the spotlight

One of those successes, experts said, was bringing attention to Amazon’s industry-standard, but still aggressively anti-union tactics.

“Amazon’s tactics during the campaign and voting process were successful for them but now are being questioned legally and in the public view,” Lynne Vincent, an assistant professor of management at Syracuse University, told Insider.

Even before employees started talking about forming a union, Amazon had hired private detectives known for union busting, spied on workers’ private Facebook groups, and tracked unionization risk with a heat map tool in an effort to thwart organizing efforts before they gained momentum.

Amazon also illegally fired multiple employees last year who organized demonstrations to shed light on what they said were unsafe and grueling working conditions, the NLRB found. Amazon previously said it disagreed with the board’s findings in one case, while the other case is still pending before an NLRB administrative law judge.

Once employees took their union drive public, Amazon enlisted expensive “union avoidance” consultants to help kick its union-busting tactics into overdrive. Amazon pushed its anti-union message through websites, t-shirts, frequent texts to employees, and midnight “education” meetings, which labor experts told Insider were fairly typically in union campaigns like this.

Amazon’s executives and PR team also waged an atypical attack on members of Congress who voiced support for the unions (Amazon later apologized for some of its tweets), and deployed an army of warehouse employees to respond to criticism of the company on social media.

But the company also sought to shape the voting process itself.

The NLRB has allowed mail-in voting in union elections since March 2020 due to the pandemic, but Amazon (twice, unsuccessfully) tried to get the NLRB to hold an in-person election. When that failed, it reportedly pressed the United States Postal Service to install a mailbox outside the Bessemer warehouse.

An Amazon spokesperson previously told Insider that the USPS installed the mailbox “for the convenience of our employees.”

But the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union – under which Amazon’s Bessemer employees would have unionized if the vote had passed – accused Amazon of using the mailbox to intimidate workers and plans to file unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB that, if serious enough, could cause the NLRB to throw out the election result.

John Logan, a labor and employment professor at San Francisco State University who specializes in companies’ union avoidance strategies, told Insider that the mailbox’s placement likely gave employees an impression that “Amazon was playing some kind of direct role in monitoring and even perhaps in counting the votes, which clearly creates an atmosphere of pressure and potentially unlawful intimidation.”

Vincent said that companies who use a similar anti-union playbook to Amazon “may see validation in the effectiveness of the tactics,” but that the Bessemer campaign may also cause politicians to reexamine and ultimately outlaw some of those tactics.

What’s next for American workers?

Kochan said the Bessemer union drive was “another clear indication that [US] labor law is broken, perhaps in its current form, beyond repair.”

But many of the experts who spoke to Insider said the massive amount of attention and public support it generated suggest there may finally be an appetite to begin those repairs.

Under the Trump administration, the NLRB “systematically rolled back workers’ rights,” according to an analysis by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. President Joe Biden has already signaled he intends to be much more pro-worker than his predecessor, releasing a video in support of unionization efforts and against corporate “anti-union propaganda” – as Amazon employees were voting.

“Given the pro union sentiment in many areas, as well as the clear backing of the current administration, it would still not be surprising to see successful efforts to unionize businesses in other areas, and eventually, even at Amazon itself,” Joseph Seiner, a labor and employment law professor at the University of South Carolina, told Insider.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, from Republican Sen. Marco Rubio to Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, voiced support for the Amazon employees’ push to unionize. The House also passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would make it easier for workers to organize, harder for employers to misclassify workers, and ban certain union-busting tactics – though the bill faces steep odds in the Senate.

Veena Dubal, a law professor at UC Hastings who researches how technology impacts workers’ lives, said that the Bessemer vote may push regulators to look more closely at how giant tech firms like Amazon exert power over workers.

“A lot of regulatory focus has hinged on anti-trust regulation-the need to break up Amazon because of its significant market power-but the truth is, Amazon also exerts monopsony power in labor markets. In areas where Amazon warehouses exist, wages go down, not up,” Dubal said.

The COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice protests following George Floyd’s death last May have also forced Americans to reckon with how race plays a role in the workplace. That became a focus in Bessemer, where the RWDSU estimated that 85% of Amazon’s employees are Black, according to The New York Times.

“The core issue in the campaign was not about specific concessions but worker power. And in this case, it can’t be distinguished from the struggle for racial equity,” Premilla Nadasen, an associate professor of history at Barnard College who researches alternative labor movements, told Insider. “Black people are being disenfranchised electorally and subject to systemic violence. So, the struggle for economic control over matters more.”

“Official union membership figures aside,” she said, “more and more working-class Americans are recognizing the need to have a collective voice.”

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The Amazon union vote failed. Two workers explain why they voted against unionizing.

Amazon Bessemer warehouse
An aerial shot of Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.

  • The results of Amazon’s historic union vote are in, and the majority of warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, voted against forming a union.
  • Prior to the results coming in, Insider spoke to two employees about the reasons they voted no.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Cori Jennings started working at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse after leaving a job in the food industry. She was surprised at how much she enjoyed her work on what Amazon Fulfillment Center employees call “the sort side,” scanning and sorting boxes on the warehouse floor.

“I love it, I really do,” Jennings, who voted against the union, told Insider.

She works 10 hours a day, 4 days a week, and touted Amazon’s benefits and her relationship with her manager as top reasons that she’s a fan of the job.

And after Jennings’ workplace came under unprecedented national scrutiny for a historic union vote, the results showed that the majority of her coworkers in Bessemer who participated in the vote were against unionizing.

Voting in the union election spanned the month of March and closed on March 29. On Friday, April 9, the National Labor Review Board vote tally showed Amazon crossing the majority threshold to defeat the union attempt. The RWDSU needed 50% plus one of the ballots cast to win, but failed to meet this metric.

3,125 workers cast ballots out of over 5,800 total warehouse workers at this location. The final tally was 1,798 votes against unionizing and 738 votes for the union, with 70.9% of valid votes counted against the union.

Per a statement by Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the RWDSU, the union intends to file objections accusing Amazon of unfair labor practices to the NLRB. Objections seeking to challenge the results of a failed union vote are common, Insider has reported.

In March, Insider reported that the number of NLRB complaints against Amazon more than tripled in the past year, and the company lost two requests related to the union drive: first, an attempt to require in-person voting, and later, when asking for added security measures in the ballot storage room.

The final vote result on Friday marks a major win for the corporate giant and a personal victory for two Bessemer workers Insider spoke to in March as the votes were being cast.

Amazon warehouse Bessemer Alabama union vote

What was at stake

The Bessemer warehouse saw a visit from Sen. Bernie Sanders, national media attention, and divisions over whether or not to unionize. Jennings and other employees who voted against the union said that Amazon already provides everything a union would. Amazon has also made this argument.

Since the workers voted against forming a union, there will not be a bargaining table. But when first contacted for this story in March, the RWDSU’s director of communications, Chelsea Connor, said that pro-union workers were vocal about the “time off task” system, which marks the time they are away from their stations, as well wanting to improve working conditions. Workers who were pushing for the union also said that they want better job security.

Jennings told Insider in March she joined the ranks of the no voters almost immediately after she received her ballot. She feared losing free time off and benefits over the course of union bargaining.

Thomas Eady, a former coal miner who has worked in unionized industries before, also voted no.

He said in messages to Insider in March that he used to be “a huge pro-union person,” but that his time working for unions made him believe that his work ethic didn’t matter and that unions would value seniority over everything.

Eady said he didn’t believe unions could adequately protect against termination. “They can only act like a middle man,” he said.

In the past, Eady worked for a foundry union and a coal mine union. He said he saw unions as “just collecting money and overpaying themselves.”

He works as a stower at Amazon, the same role as Jennings.

“I haven’t really seen that many people who support the union” at the fulfillment center, Eady said. Eady also cited Amazon’s “decent pay and benefits” as another reason why he voted against the union. Jennings agreed. “I think we make really good money for what we do,” she said.

Amazon has touted its $15.30 an hour minimum wage and benefits package as a reason why workers did not need to unionize.

Amazon warehouse Bessemer Alabama union vote
Vote signage hangs outside the Amazon.com, Inc. fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama on March 26, 2021.

Workers feared change

Jennings said she worried that if the union vote passed, it would have affected morale and perks. She was also concerned about the RWDSU opposing Amazon workers’ at-will status.

Connor, the communications head for the RWDSU, told Insider in March that unions are fundamentally dedicated to opposing at-will employment status. The RWDSU, and any union, she said, would have aimed to introduce grievance processes and ways for employees to seek remediation if they feel they have been unfairly terminated.

The Intercept reported prior to the close of the vote that in terms of union support, some in Bessemer saw a generational gap. The publication spoke to one worker who was on the fence, identified as Jason, who is 20 years old and also works in stow. The Intercept reported that a barrage of information from Amazon’s corporate offices as well as the union and its allies left some younger workers, those with less of a grasp on the history of American labor movements, unsure about how to vote.

“In my opinion,” Jason told The Intercept in the article published March 23, “no one around my age in the building has a clear-cut answer of how they’re going to decide.”

Amazon poured money and resources into encouraging its workers to vote no, and it appears that its efforts paid off. The company’s advertising telling workers to “Do it Without Dues” used reasoning similar to what Jennings and Eady cited as their concerns.

Bernie Sanders Amazon union vote Bessemer Alabama Killer Mike
Senator Bernie Sanders and Rapper Michael “Killer Mike” Render (L) speak in support of the unionization of Amazon.com, Inc. fulfillment center workers outside the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) in Birmingham, Alabama on March 26, 2021.

A representative for Amazon said in an emailed statement to Insider in March that, “RWDSU membership has been declining for the last two decades, but that is not justification for its president Stuart Appelbaum to misrepresent the facts. Our employees know the truth-starting wages of $15 or more, health care from day one, and a safe and inclusive workplace. We encouraged all of our employees to vote and hope they did so.”

Jennings said when she spoke to Insider in March that she had begun to look into ways to suspend the union if it passed. “I just don’t think I can work for this union,” she said. She comes from a union town, and many of her family members are unionized mine-workers.

But she didn’t think Amazon needed a union in order for her to like her job. And as the red “NO” bin piled higher on Thursday night and Friday morning, it became clear the majority of Jennings’ coworkers who voted agreed.

Do you work at Amazon? Got a tip? Contact this reporter at awilliams@insider. Always use a nonwork email.

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Here’s the mailbox that could become a focal point in the battle between Amazon and union officials

Amazon Bessemer mailbox
The mailbox stands in front of the Bessemer warehouse.

  • The union behind the failed unionization attempt has argued a warehouse mailbox may have deterred voting.
  • The RWDSU obtained emails between USPS workers showing Amazon had pushed for the mailbox.
  • The union said the mailbox would be a primary piece of evidence in its unfair labor practice charge.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A mailbox outside of Amazon’s Alabama warehouse could become a central focus in the aftermath of a historic union battle at the site.

On Friday, a vote count revealed Amazon workers at the company’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama voted against forming a union, with 70.8% being “no” votes.

The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) issued a statement in response to the vote announcing its plans to file an objection and unfair labor practice charge (ULP) against Amazon.

The union highlighted the mailbox when announcing the ULP charge.

“Worst yet, even though the NLRB definitively denied Amazon’s request for a drop box on the warehouse property, Amazon felt it was above the law and worked with the postal service anyway to install one,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the union, said in a statement. “They did this because it provided a clear ability to intimidate workers.”

The day before the vote count the union revealed it had found emails showing Amazon had pushed the US Postal Service to install the mailbox at the warehouse.

The union has argued that the mailbox could be perceived as a way to deter workers from voting in favor of a union. The group has been working to represent nearly 6,000 Amazon workers at the Alabama warehouse.

Over the past seven weeks, Amazon workers voted on whether to join the first union in the US that would represent Amazon employees.

“It’s fairly common for there to be unfair labor practice charges at the end of a contentious election like this,” John Logan, a labor and employment professor at San Francisco State University who specializes in tactics companies use to defeat union drives, previously told Insider. He added that it’s “fairly difficult” to predict how the NLRB will ultimately rule on those charges.

When the mailbox was initially installed in February – just before the voting process began – Amazon reportedly emailed workers telling them to use the mailbox to vote against forming a union.

Amazon has historically acted to prevent unionization at its warehouses. An Insider investigation found Amazon used several anti-union tactics, including posting anti-union signs at its warehouses and holding meetings designed to convince workers to vote against the union.

Mailbox Amazon Bessemer
The mailbox outside the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer.

The union has spoken out against the mailbox in the past. The group said the mailbox could make it seem as if Amazon would be able to see the votes – a factor that would deter employees voting in favor of a union.

The mailbox was installed after the National Labor Relations Board rejected the company’s request for employees to vote in person at the warehouse. The board opted for mail-in votes instead.

Amazon told Insider the boxes were an effort to allow workers to vote more easily.

“We said from the beginning that we wanted all employees to vote and proposed many different options to try and make it easy,” an Amazon spokesperson told Insider. “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 USPS also responded to the reports about the emails.

“The box that was installed – a Centralized Box Unit (CBU) with a collection compartment – was suggested by the Postal Service as a solution to provide an efficient and secure delivery and collection point,” a USPS spokesperson told Insider.

“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true,” Amazon said in a statement following the finalized vote. “Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us. And Amazon didn’t win-our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union.”

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Votes against Amazon union lead after first day of ballot counting

Amazon union RWDSU vote Bessember Alabama warehouse
Union organizers Syrena (R) and Steve (no last names given) wave to cars exiting an Amazon fulfillment center on March 27, 2021 in Bessemer, Alabama.

  • The NLRB has paused its counting of Amazon employees’ votes over whether to unionize.
  • As of Thursday evening, votes against unionizing led by a margin of 1,100 to 463.
  • The NLRB expects to resume counting the votes Friday, but the results will likely be challenged.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Votes against forming a union at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, lead by a more than 2-1 margin after the first day of counting ballots.

The National Labor Relations Board paused its public counting of Amazon employees’ ballots shortly after 7 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday with the anti-union votes leading 1,100 to 463.

The NLRB plans to resume counting ballots again on Friday morning at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

While the remaining ballots are likely to be counted Friday, it could take the NLRB several weeks to announce the official outcome of the vote due to likely challenges from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union – the labor group under which Amazon’s Bessemer employees would unionize if the vote passes.

“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. But make no mistake about it; this still represents an important moment for working people and their voices will be heard,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum told Insider in a statement.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

Per NLRB rules for union votes, both Amazon and the RWDSU can file objections within five days of the conclusion of the count. The NLRB then decides whether the objections are serious enough to warrant a hearing where it will determine whether the vote results should be set aside.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Amazon pushed the United States Postal Service to install a mailbox outside the Bessemer warehouse at the start of the voting period in February, which the RWDSU previously argued violates labor laws by intimidating workers and implying Amazon plays a role in collecting and counting ballots.

“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,” Amazon spokeswoman Heather Knox told The Post.

Before Thursday’s public vote count, both Amazon and the RWDSU also had the opportunity to challenge employees’ eligibility to cast a ballot. Hundreds of ballots were challenged, mostly by Amazon, according to the RWDSU, which could potentially impact the outcome as well.

This year Amazon appealed to change the NLRB’s practices. In February, Insider reported that the NLRB had denied Amazon’s request to conduct an in-person union election, saying that the company must allow mail-in voting. And after the close of voting on March 29, the NLRB denied a request by Amazon for increased surveillance on the room where ballots were stored in the labor board’s Birmingham, Alabama, headquarters.

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