Amazon appears to defeat unionization vote in Alabama

The union plans to file an objection within five days of the final tally.

Amazon appeared to defeat a union drive at a Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse on Friday on the second day of vote counting, the latest development in a monthslong unionization effort that has drawn national attention. 

The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which would have bargained on behalf of the warehouse workers had they voted to unionize, has said it will file objections claiming that Amazon interfered with the voting rights of its employees, Reuters reported

Ultimately, about 55 percent of the 5,805 eligible voters cast ballots. By late Friday morning, workers had cast 1,608 votes against a union, while 696 voted in favor. The margin is wide enough that the votes that have not yet been counted will not change the outcome, The New York Times reported

“The results demonstrate the powerful impact of employer intimidation and interference.”

Before the votes were counted, both Amazon and the union had a chance to contest each ballot based on criteria like employment status or job role. The union told the Times that roughly 500 ballots had been set aside in this way, mostly at Amazon’s request, and were not counted against the total. Had the tally been closer, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would have held a hearing to determine whether to count them. 

Now, RWDSU will have five days after the final tally to challenge the vote by filing objections to NLRB’s regional director. As CNBC reported, either party can file objections claiming that their opponent’s conduct during the voting process invalidated the final tally: Amazon could claim that the union bribed voters, or the union could claim that Amazon engaged in unfair labor practices. The party filing objections is supposed to include proof of their claims. 

Those objections will likely include Amazon’s request that the U.S. Postal Service install a mailbox outside the warehouse earlier this year, a move the union claims may have led workers to believe their employer had a role in conducting the election. 

“We demand a comprehensive investigation over Amazon’s behavior in corrupting this election,” RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement on Friday. 

“That frown on that box is still going to turn into a smile. We’re going to fight for our rights as human beings, not robots.”

Regardless of the outcome of the objection process, the vote represents a decisive setback for unionization efforts at Amazon, the second-largest employer in the nation. Amazon has argued that its employees don’t need a union because its pay scale starts at $15 per hour and includes healthcare. “Make no mistake about it: This still represents an important victory for working people. Most importantly, people should not presume that the results of this vote are in any way a validation of Amazon’s working conditions and the way Amazon treats its employees. Quite the contrary: The results demonstrate the powerful impact of employer intimidation and interference,” said RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum on a Friday webinar. 

Amazon campaigned aggressively against unionization in Bessemer, holding mandatory anti-union meetings for warehouse workers and posting anti-union messaging on bathroom door stalls. The company also sent text messages to workers’ cell phones discouraging them from voting to unionize.

In a webinar organized by RWDSU on Friday, Amazon workers voiced support for continued unionization efforts. “That frown on that box is still going to turn into a smile,” employee Linda Burns said. “We’re going to fight for our rights as human beings, not robots.”

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H. Claire Brown is a senior staff writer for The Counter. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, and The Intercept and has won awards from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, the New York Press Club, the Newswomen's Club of New York, and others. A North Carolina native, she now lives in Brooklyn.