Historic Alabama Union Effort Defeated By Amazon

Those activists who had been hoping to establish the first unionised warehouse in the United States in Amazon have been defeated by the company.  Labour officials said, workers at the Bessemer, Alabama warehouse voted 1,798 to 738 against the effort. That was a majority of the votes that were cast in the contest and according to analysts this was a crucial test for Amazon amid criticism globally of how the company treated its workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

It would challenge the results, the union said.

Amazon had interfered with the right of employees to vote in a “free and fair election”, which included holding mandatory meetings and saying lies to employees about the implications of the vote in those meetings and pushing the postal service to install a mailbox on company grounds so that the company could monitor the voting, the union said.

“Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which organised the effort.

“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.”

It was “not true” that it had intimidated staff, Amazon said. Portraying the outcome of the vote as a choice by staff instead of a victory of the company, Amazon said that the company had strived hard to listen to concerns and improve.

“We’re not perfect, but we’re proud of our team and what we offer, and will keep working to get better every day,” it said.

According to analysts, there was optimism among the RWDSU leaders that the health crisis, during which the business of Amazon reached new heights even while it reportedly exposed its workers to the virus, had presented an opportunity for the trade union to get into the company and set a new standard for Amazon workers across the country.

If the effort of the union was successful, it would have meant that the second largest employer in the US would have had to come to a contract with the union officials about issues within the company such as work rules and pay.

Broader issues of civil rights and racial justice were brought in by the union prior to the vote at the warehouse, which employs about 6000 people with a domination of blacks. The organizers cited complaints, such as intrusive monitoring and abrupt, impersonal treatment by management.

The union did not represent the views of most of its staff, Amazon had argued.

She was not surprised by Amazon’s win, said Rebecca Givan, professor of labour studies at Rutgers University, because of the outsize power employers have to fight union efforts under current US law.

“Employers have a huge advantage in these situations,” she said. “They have almost unlimited money and almost unlimited access to the workers to bombard them with messages of anxiety and uncertainty and we see the result of that here.”

(Adapted from BBC.com)

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