Victory by a landslide for Amazon against the unions and notice for surfers directed at the staff of the electronic commerce giant and other greats of the technology sector in the US With half of the scrutiny carried out, at mid-morning this Friday, local time, the Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer (Alabama) have rejected by 1,798 votes 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 for its lax taxation and for 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 half a point 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 thousand votes in dispute could have been a trump card for the union supporters if the margin of defeat with the detractors had been lower, but from the first ballots counted, this Thursday, the victory of the company was clear. The union may appeal the results in whole or in part, alleging tampering with the envelopes, doubts about the workers’ eligibility or coercion by the company, a casus belli the latter that would lead to a legal 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 that the RWDSU will turn to if it ultimately decides to present appeals, prior transfer to the ordinary justice system. 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.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.