Unionization bid at Amazon’s Bessemer facility falls through but the struggle will continue

Of the 3,215 ballots submitted by the workers of the Bessemer warehouse, 1,798 votes were against unionization and 738 votes for it. Organizers have pledged to continue the struggle against Amazon’s anti-worker and anti-union policies

April 10, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
RWDSU organizers, workers and residents of Birmingham and Bessemer hold a pro-union demonstration ahead of union vote at Amazon's Bessemer warehouse on February 7. Photo: BAmazonUnion/Twitter

The results of the historic vote for unionization at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer in the US State of Alabama were a disappointment for organizers as the necessary number of votes to get union recognition were not obtained. However, workers and organizers have pledged to continue their struggle. According to the final results declared by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Friday, April 9, of 3,215 ballots submitted by the workers of the Bessemer warehouse (BHM1), 1,798 votes were against unionization and 738 votes for it. The rest of the votes were either invalidated or challenged and are under review. A simple majority was needed for the union to receive recognition.

The Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which helped organize the workers, pointed out that more than 500 ballots are yet to be counted because their validity was challenged by Amazon over different reasons. The voting was conducted over eight weeks – between February 8 and March 29. Ballots were submitted by post in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. The turnout was nearly 55% of the total intended union members.

Responding to the results, the RWDSU pointed to the union-busting methods and constant interference by Amazon towards significantly limiting pro-union canvassing and amplifying anti-union propaganda. In a statement released on Friday, the RWDSU announced that it will be filing an unfair labor practice lawsuit (ULP) against Amazon, objecting to both the conduct of the election and Amazon’s interference with the NLRB.

The RWDSU stated that it will be calling for “a hearing on its objections to determine if the results of the election should be set aside because conduct by the employer created an atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals and thus interfered with the employees’ freedom of choice.”

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

The union reiterated its previous complaints regarding the blitzkrieg of anti-union advertisements, which included a constant barrage of e-mails and text messages to the employees, hiring union-busting consultancies and even forcing workers to attend mandatory anti-union lectures and group sessions.

The RWDSU also pointed out that among Amazon’s most blatantly anti-union activities was the bypassing of the NLRB’s decision to allow a ballot drop-box at the warehouse premises, and getting the postal services to install a post box instead. “They did this because it provided a clear ability to intimidate workers,” Applebaum added. Amazon has an infamous history of union busting in the United States, where it employs nearly 900,000 employees as of 2020.

Reiterating RWDSU’s demand for a comprehensive investigation into the company’s “behavior in corrupting” the election process, Applebaum stated that “Working people deserve better than the way Amazon has conducted itself during this campaign. This campaign has proven that the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is to join together in a union.”

Despite the results, workers at the Bessemer warehouse still continue to display resilience to take the struggle forward. Darryl Richardson, the first employee to approach the RWDSU to unionize workers in 2020, sparking the whole movement, tweeted “The fight isn’t over, (one) more round.”

Chris Smalls, a former Amazon worker at the Staten Island warehouse in New York, who was fired for successfully organizing workers for safe conditions during the pandemic, also sent out a positive message of continuing and expanding the struggle. “I know folks are disappointed but don’t be I can assure you that other locations have already started organizing,” read his tweet.

Organizing efforts have already begun in other Amazon warehouses demanding safe workplaces and against extremely long working hours. In the meanwhile, support has come pouring in over social media for the pro-union organizers in Bessemer.