May 16, 2021

Amazon Appears to Defeat Union Effort in Alabama

The Amazon warehouse, on the outskirts of Birmingham, opened a year ago, just as the pandemic took hold. It was part of a major expansion at the company that accelerated during the pandemic. Last year, Amazon grew by more than 400,000 employees in the United States, where it now has almost a million workers. Warehouse workers typically assemble and box up orders of items for customers.

The unionization effort came together quickly, especially for one aimed at such a large target. A small group of workers at the building in Bessemer approached the local branch of the retail workers’ union last summer. They were frustrated with how Amazon constantly monitored every second of their workday through technology and felt that their managers were not willing to listen to their complaints.

Organizers got at least 2,000 workers to sign cards saying they wanted an election, enough for the National Labor Relations Board, which conducts union elections, to approve a vote.

The election was conducted by mail, a concession to the pandemic. Instead of holding an election over just a few days, workers had more than a month to complete and mail in their ballots, which were due on March 29.

Amazon’s public campaign focused on what the company already provided in benefits and the $15 minimum wage, which is twice the Alabama minimum. Internally it stressed that workers did not need to pay for union membership to have a great job. The company’s slogan — “Do it without dues” — was pushed to workers in text messages, mandatory meetings and signs in bathroom stalls.

The union had complained that those tactics showed how companies like Amazon have an advantage because they can hold mandatory anti-union meetings and have access to workers in the warehouse to persuade them to vote no. In 2018, the union also tried and failed to make inroads at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island.

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