Amazon workers at an Alabama warehouse voted against unionizing, a significant defeat for a months-long organizing effort that drew widespread attention as workers faced off against one of the nation’s most powerful employers.
Over half of the 3215 employees who cast ballots by mail since early February voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the effort to unionize employees at the facility in Bessemer, Al., according to a preliminary tally Friday overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. The vote count, ongoing for days, was made public to journalists, lawyers, and others online via livestream.
It was the closest Amazon workers anywhere in the U.S. had come to a union. In Bessemer, worker concerns over the company’s handling of COVID-19 workplace safety converged with the racial equity movement to set in motion one of the most closely-watched American union drives in recent history.
The loss deals a blow to the RDWSU, which rode a wave of publicity uncommon in labor organizing, fueled by the spotlight the pandemic has put on the nation’s income and racial disparities. Unionization would have had significant effect on Amazon’s operations, including potentially paving the path for wider worker organization at the behemoth company.
Still, labor historians said the very effort marked an inflection point in the relationship between labor and the tech industry, which has grown in profits and influence while the workers who make, package, and deliver its products reap disproportionately little of the gains. And it has sharpened public scrutiny of Amazon, known for exacting control of its employees and the pace of their work in its warehouses to meet the quick delivery goals customers have come to expect.
The public vote count came after more than a week of the labor board reviewing and certifying each ballot cast behind closed doors, with representatives from both the union and Amazon contesting the eligibility of some ballots. The union said about 500 ballots total had been challenged, largely by Amazon. The union said it intends to challenge the results.