Amazon unionization effort falls short

Workers at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama have voted against creating a union by a wide margin.

Workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, plant have voted 1,798 to 738 to reject the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Counting concluded on Friday morning, and attention will now focus on some 505 challenged ballots , but the margin of victory was too greatto change the outcome.

The fight to form a union in the warehouse in Bessemer, a suburb north of Birmingham, we eagerly watched by America’s labor movement as one of its most important battles in recent history. Some 5,800 workers were eligible to vote on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) as the first unionized Amazon warehouse in the US.

In a statement, the RWDSU president, Stuart Appelbaum, said: “We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote.

Amazon strongly and publicly opposed the union, from seeking to delay the election, pushing for in-person voting, hiring expensive union avoidance consultants, forcing workers to participate in captive audience meetings, flooding workers with anti-union messaging and encouraging them to vote against it, sponsoring local media content, and waging PR fights against critics.

Amazon had pulled out all the stops to prevent the union from winning. This result will, unfortunately, enable one of the most predatory companies to continue its behavior.


  1. kai0 says

    I don’t understand. What were they voting about? Is there a rule that either all employees or none have to belong to a union? What is keeping the workers who want to belong to a union from just joining up?

  2. Who Cares says

    If the warehouse is unionized then the only way to work there is by being in the union. That means that the workers in the union can go to the labor board and stop Amazon from union busting by bringing in non union workers or firing all the workers, the only option left would be closing the warehouse and go to the next state.
    Alabama is also a fire at will state (technically that is at will employment) , which means that unless you can prove you got chucked on the street for being in a protected group Amazon can fire you for any and no reason at all. This is also why the warehouse and thus anyone in it needs to be in the union else Amazon could just fire people that are part of one, since union members are not a protected group.

  3. avalus says

    @Who Cares#3:
    “Fire at will” is absolute madness. The anti-union laws in the US are horrible… . As was Amazons propaganda in the run-up. Urg.

  4. Ridana says

    This result does seem fishy, since in order to have the vote in the first place, over 3,000 of the eligible ~5,800 employees signed union cards (only 30% is required to prompt a vote). So how did it end up 2:1 against? Were people signing union cards so they could vote to not have a union?

  5. Who Cares says


    I wouldn’t put it past Amazon to have hired strike breakers for the warehouse just to do what you suggested, voting against unionizing. With the amount of people working there no on will know everyone or even a majority of the people working there.

    That aside Amazon has no problems to put the thumbscrews on the workers in their warehouses. Even if the job is badly paid there is a good chance it is the only job available. They can order the workers around, to for example mandatory meetings that resemble those pressure cooker hard sales events you have to sit through on those ‘free’ trips. Amazon has in the past show to have absolutely no problem with lying about unions, for example promoting horror stories about unions that were invented out of whole cloth. Intimidation and threats are also present, for example Amazon stating that Amazon prioritizes speed, innovation and the customer and it is either that or the union. A not to subtle implication that if they manage to unionize the warehouse will be shuttered.

    And that are just a few things I’ve read or can think of myself. Amazon has better access to the workers then the union and used that to the max to amplify the fear, uncertainty and doubt about the unions.

  6. Mano Singham says

    kaio@#2, and Who Cares @#3,

    I believe that Alabama is a so-called Right-to-Work state which means that even if there is a union, workers do not have to join it. This means that non-union workers will also get any benefits that are negotiated by the union.

    So while Right-to- Work laws do weaken unions, having a formal union does provide legal protections when it comes to bargaining.

  7. publicola says

    It’s the same old plantation/sharecropper/ textile mill mindset inculcated in these workers by the whip crackers/ strawbosses/management: “Do what you’re told or else!” They would rather be beaten down than stand up for themselves. Too bad, but they’ll find out eventually that Amazon is not their friend. Also, labor law should be changed so that if a shop is unionized, you have to be a dues-paying member to receive union-negotiated benefits and protections. When non- members find themselves falling way behind in wages and benefits, they’ll realize union dues are a bargain.

  8. publicola says

    By the way, right-to-work means the right to work for less money, fewer or no benefits and harsher working conditions.

  9. Who Cares says

    @Mano Singham(#8):
    That still doesn’t change that it is the warehouse that is unionized. All that happens is that the union now requires a minimum percentage of workers (30% in this case) there to be union members before they try to get the warehouse unionized. What the union cannot do is demand dues from the workers not being union members or exclude said workers when negotiating with Amazon.

  10. birgerjohansson says

    When a vaccine-proof mutant variant emerges, I would be happy to pass it on to Jeff Bezos even if I risk dying myself in the process.

  11. flex says

    The numbers tell an interesting story:

    3041 total votes cast of around 5800 eligible voters. That means about 47% of the eligible voters just didn’t vote.

    When half of the members on a union drive didn’t vote either way, it’s a good chance that a lot of FUD was thrown into the mix.

  12. mnb0 says

    @1 JKR: “Well at least the company is unionized in Germany and Italy.”
    Unfortunately that’s not much of a consolation. I translate from

    German unions have fought 10 years for a Collective Labour Agreement; Amazon has stubbornly refused thus far. Also Amazon has applied all kind of filthy tricks to get dominace on the German market. So German unions have warned the Dutch ones to be on their guard, because Amazon wants to get a hold in their neighbour.
    Granted, German workers at Amazon are somewhat better protected than their American colleagues, but it’s still a prime example of predatory capitalism. Protection against Amazon is insufficient.
    I never order anything at Amazon. They are criminals.

  13. jrkrideau says

    @ 14 mnb0
    The only things I get from Amazon are bibliographic references and they are free. I have no intention of ever buying anything.

  14. Sam N says

    I wish some of you had actually worked at an Amazon warehouse as I have. The fear on my fellow-workers’ faces. I have been so privileged, people just offer me money that I decline. I should make my own way. Other people working at that warehouse are not in my position. Their fears are justified. If that Alabama warehouse had unionized, it wouldn’t surprise me if Jeff Bezos and his sociopathic board of trustees decided to place warehouses around the borders of that state, fired everyone in Alabama, as retribution.

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