- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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