Amazon appears well on its way to thwarting an attempt to unionize workers at its Bessemer, Ala. plant with the pro-union vote falling well behind the anti-union tally on Thursday as counting was suspended for the evening.
With 1100 workers choosing against representation by the Retail, Wholesale Department Store Union compared to 463 in favor of unionization, the attempt to hand Amazon its first unionized group of workers appears to be falling well short of success.
Approximately 1630 votes remain to be counted Friday by the National Labor Relations Board which is overseeing the vote.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, blamed a “broken” system that stacks the deck against labor and in favor of large corporations.
“Amazon took full advantage of that, and we will be calling on the labor board to hold Amazon accountable for its illegal and egregious behavior during the campaign,” he said Thursday. “But make no mistake about it; this still represents an important moment for working people and their voices will be heard.”
The final count should be completed by tomorrow midday. The union is expected to appeal the vote.
More than 3,200 workers participated in the unionization vote, approximately 55% of the eligible voters. The election was hand-counted and broadcast live through Zoom from the NLRB offices in Birmingham, Ala.
More than 5,800 Amazon workers in Alabama could have been affected by the push organize under the RWDSU, an 80-year-old organization led by Applebaum since 1998. Voting ended a week ago.
University of Washington professor Margaret O’Mara, a historian who has written extensively about the tech industry, said the outcome thus far isn’t a surprise. “It’s in keeping with what you’d expect,” she said Thursday after the counting halted for the day. “Unions have tried before in the tech industry and they’ve not gone anywhere.
O’Mara said employees view the modern workplace as mostly a short-term relationship, not a career. So while they might have been willing to fight for better wages with the expectation of 30-years at U.S. Steel, today’s employee might not be so inclined to fight when facing the prospect of only a year at an Amazon fulfillment center.
At stake isn’t just union representation for several thousand Alabama-based employees of the online retail giant, but also the company’s ongoing relationship with hundreds of thousands of its lowest-paid workers across the country.
And in some ways, the vote has also become a proxy for the health of the national labor movement as a whole.
The fight has pulled in Amazon’s top brass including founder Jeff Bezos, numerous U.S. senators, President Joe Biden, and tech industry leaders who say that this fight isn’t simply about the online retail and cloud computing giant but also about the nature of modern work itself.
Today, the Washington Post reported that Amazon managers in the days leading up to the election pushed the U.S. Postal Service to install a mailbox at the Bessemer warehouse — a move the union sees as a violation of labor laws.
According to the Post: “The union has complained about the mailbox, which the Postal Service installed just prior to the start of mail-in balloting for the union election in early February. It’s argued that the mailbox could lead workers to think that Amazon has some role in collecting and counting ballots, which could influence their votes.”
The New York Times noted that generally union elections are held in person but the pandemic changed all of that. Workers received their ballots in February and were due at the Birmingham NLRB office by March 30. During the past several days, the board has attempted to determine ballots are eligible and which are not.
Updated 4:10 p.m.: The count is suspended for the day. The anti-union faction is winning big with 1100 votes against the union and 463 in favor. Approximately 1630 votes left to be tallied.
Updated at 3:40 p.m.: The day is drawing to a close. The gap is wide. Now at 914 votes against and 400 in favor of unionization. The ratio tomorrow must completely reverse to make it close enough to require the counting of the challenged ballots.
Updated at 3:15 p.m.: Counting has resumed. Same ratio. Amazon management pulled another 100 votes before the union supporters tallied an additional 50. Now 801 against compared to 349 in favor.
Updated at 3:05 p.m.: The NLRB staff proposed counting for one more hour and then continuing tomorrow at 8:30 AM CST. Both sides agreed. The count is at 700 against and 301 in favor.
Updated at 2:45 p.m.: Still trending strongly against forming a union in Bessemer: 698 against vs. 300 in favor of organizing. Currently, the NLRB staff is taking a 15-min. break after counting ballots for nearly three hours.
The company folks who oppose the union are winning handily at this point with no evidence that the gap is going to narrow. Witnesses and labor officials have not decided how late they will tally Thursday night in Birmingham. There are approximately 2,200 votes still uncounted. Both sides have agreed to continue for a while.
Updated at 2:05 p.m. Now at 440 votes against a union; 200 votes in favor (unofficial).
Update at 1:55 p.m. Amazon management extends its lead. Now at 400 votes against a union; 183 votes in favor (unofficial).
Update at 1:25 p.m. It is 196 No votes and 100 Yes, still nearly 2-1 against forming a union.
Update at 1 p.m. The No union side has 100 votes to the 39 for Yes. (unofficial)
Update, 12:55 p.m.: At my count — unofficial — the “No” union side is winning handily so far.
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