Amazon workers in Alabama reject union drive in majority vote

BESSEMER, Ala. (Reuters) — Efforts to unionize Amazon.com warehouse workers in Alabama were defeated on Friday by a more than 2-to-1 margin in a major win for the online retailer, but the union trying to organize workers said it will challenge the results, citing election interference.

According to the tally from agents at the National Labor Relations Board, 1,798 voted against forming a union, with 738 ballots in favor. A simple majority was needed for victory.

Both sides have the right to challenge the eligibility of individual ballots and the entire voting campaign process, but a ballot count official on a Zoom call of the proceeding announced that there were not enough challenged votes to affect the results.

Amazon responded to the vote in a statement Friday.

It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true. Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us. And Amazon didn’t win—our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union. Our employees are the heart and soul of Amazon, and we’ve always worked hard to listen to them, take their feedback, make continuous improvements, and invest heavily to offer great pay and benefits in a safe and inclusive workplace. We’re not perfect, but we’re proud of our team and what we offer, and will keep working to get better every day.

Amazon

Amazon shares rose 1.7% Friday, adding to earlier gains.

Union leaders had hoped the election outside Birmingham would spark a new era of worker activism. Instead, it illustrated the continued challenges facing the labor movement, joining high-profile failures to start unions at auto and plane factories in the U.S. South.

The U.S. South is a region that has been particularly anti-union. Nearly all the states in the area, including Alabama, passed so-called right-to-work laws that curtail unions’ abilities to mandate dues and other measures.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which is trying to organize the Amazon employees, said it is filing objections, charging that Amazon interfered with the right of its Bessemer, Alabama, employees to vote.

It has the same legal options as Amazon: challenge the eligibility of individual voters or allege that coercive conduct tainted the election.

In the latter case, the dispute would play out before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and then likely in a federal appeals court.

Unionizing Amazon, the second-largest private employer in America, would be a start to reverse long-running declines in union membership, which fell to 11% of the eligible workforce in 2020 from 20% in 1983, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The vote count followed more than a week of challenges to ballots during closed-door proceedings that could influence the final result. Lawyers for Amazon and the union were allowed to question ballots on suspicion of tampering, a voter’s eligibility and other issues.

The NLRB, which is overseeing the election, would adjudicate challenges in coming days.

Amazon for years has discouraged attempts among its more than 800,000 U.S. employees to organize, showing managers how to identify union activity, raising wages and warning that union dues would cut into pay, according to a prior training video, public statements and the company’s union election website.

Amazon has said it is following all NLRB rules and wants employees to understand each side of the contest, and that the RWDSU does not represent a majority of its employees’ views. The company has said it wants as many of its employees to vote as possible.

The union objection will focus in part on what it described as Amazon pressuring the U.S. Postal Service to install a mail box and then pressuring employees to bring their ballots to work and use the mailbox.

Out of 5,867 workers eligible to cast ballots, 3,041 voted. NLRB officials said 505 ballots were contested and 76 were voided.

© 2021 Thomson Reuters.