Amazon workers reject by majority the creation of a union in Alabama
Victory for Amazon’s landslide against the unions and notice for sailors directed at the staff of the e-commerce giant and other large companies in the technology sector in the US Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer (Alabama) have rejected by 1,798 votes against to 738 the proposal to form a union, which would have set a precedent in the second private company with the largest number of employees in the country, which is also currently under the spotlight due to its lax taxation and working conditions that many consider deficient. Of the 5,805 Bessemer workers with the right to vote, just over half voted, 3,215, the record of abstention being the same in favor of the company and its attempts to discourage union mobilization. Amazon shares have risen 1.7% this Friday.
The Retail and Wholesale Trade Union (RWDSU), which oversees the Alabama mobilization, was also confident of victory to reverse the inexorable decline in the number of members, in a sector especially affected by the pandemic. In the US workforce as a whole, union representation has fallen from 20% of affiliates in 1983 to 11% in 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Despite the meager census of the center of Bessemer, the process could not have been more complex. Seven weeks of voting, between February and March, after the authorities gave the reason to the workers to vote by mail because of the pandemic (the company insisted until the last moment on a face-to-face vote). One more week, behind closed doors, for representatives of Amazon and the RWDSU to certify the validity of the votes (cast in a double envelope, inside, secret, the ballot; on the outside, the worker’s identification), with the result of 500 votes in dispute. And just two days, this Thursday and Friday, for public scrutiny, before Labor officials and relayed via Zoom to more than 200 journalists, lawyers and observers, from a center in Birmingham, the largest city in Alabama.
The half thousand votes in dispute could have been a trump card for union supporters if the margin of defeat had been less, but from the first ballots counted, this Thursday, the victory by a landslide of the company was clear. The union has announced on its Twitter account that it will appeal the results due to company interference in the process. “We call for an in-depth investigation into Amazon’s behavior and its attempts to pervert this choice,” announced Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU, in what constitutes a casus belli which could lead to a court battle.
It is a great victory for the giant of commerce online, which in recent months has found itself on the ropes due to the joint action of the authorities and justice for its alleged monopolistic practices; for criticism of its elusive taxation by President Joe Biden and for denouncing the poor working conditions suffered by some of its workers, for example drivers, forced to urinate in plastic bottles due to lack of toilets, as the company she was forced to acknowledge last Friday after a great controversy on social networks. All this, not to mention the allegations of pressure during the electoral process in Bessemer; according to critics, even by creating false profiles of workers to discourage those with union veleance.
The main asset that Amazon has used to stop the union mobilization has been the salary: 15 dollars an hour. A desideratum for most American workers (the minimum wage has been frozen for years at $ 7.25) that President Joe Biden wanted to make a reality at the federal level, although he had to put aside the purpose for Congress to pass the stimulus plan against the pandemic, in March. Fifteen dollars an hour is the minimum wage that representatives of the Democratic left wing, led by Senator Bernie Sanders or Senator Elizabeth Warren, have advocated for years. Sanders visited Birmingham at the end of March and participated in a demonstration with Amazon workers in favor of the union. A congressional delegation visited the Bessemer logistics center in early March to show their support for the employees.
Amazon has for years discouraged unionization attempts among its more than 800,000 US employees by specifically training their middle managers to identify union activity; raising wages and warning its employees that union dues would reduce payroll, according to different mid-level training videos, public statements and the firm’s electoral website. He has also argued that the RWDSU does not represent the majority position among the workers.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an independent federal agency that protects the organizing rights of private sector workers, has acted as arbitrator and will be the first instance to which the RWDSU should turn, prior transfer of the case to ordinary justice. Amazon says it has faithfully followed the rules of the arbitration board during the process, while ensuring that it has encouraged as many workers as possible to vote, something that the high abstention among Bessemer’s workforce seems to contradict.