How Amazon fought the union drive in Alabama

Folks protest in help of the unionizing efforts of the Alabama Amazon employees, in Los Angeles, California, March 22, 2021.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

Amazon final week soundly defeated a union drive at considered one of its Alabama warehouses, a significant win for the e-commerce big, which has lengthy fought unionization makes an attempt at its amenities. 

Staff on the Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse voted overwhelmingly in favor of rejecting unionization, with fewer than 30% of the votes tallied in favor. The Retail, Wholesale and Division Retailer Union, which led the union drive, intends to problem the end result, arguing that Amazon broke the legislation with a few of its anti-union exercise earlier than and through voting. 

The end result delivers a setback to organized labor, which had hoped the Bessemer election would assist set up a foothold at Amazon. However unions, employee advocates and a few workers on the Bessemer facility, referred to as BHM1, stated they imagine that the Bessemer election will gasoline additional organizing makes an attempt at different warehouses throughout the nation. Labor leaders say the Bessemer election additionally revealed to most people the lengths to which employers will go to stop unions.

In response to a number of employees and union representatives who described the techniques, Amazon unleashed an aggressive public relations marketing campaign at BHM1, together with textual content messages to workers, leaflets, an internet site that urged employees to “do it with out dues” and fliers posted in loos that urged employees to “vote ‘NO.'”

Amazon despatched out textual content messages and mailers urging employees at its Bessemer, Alabama, facility to “vote NO.”

Amazon’s biggest alternative to affect employees got here within the type of so-called captive viewers conferences, which employees had been required to attend throughout their shift. Amazon held the conferences weekly from late January up till ballots had been despatched out in early February. Staff sat for about half-hour by PowerPoint shows discouraging unionization and got the chance to ask Amazon representatives questions.  

Captive viewers conferences are a typical tactic utilized by employers throughout union campaigns. Supporters of proposed labor legislation reforms, such because the Defending the Proper to Arrange Act, which awaits passage within the Senate, have argued that captive viewers conferences function a discussion board for employers to ship anti-union messages “with out giving the union a chance to reply.” The PRO Act would prohibit employers from making these conferences necessary.

Amazon stated it hosted ongoing conferences in small teams as a means for workers to get all of the information about becoming a member of a union and in regards to the election course of itself.

The corporate additionally defended its response to the union marketing campaign extra broadly, arguing in an announcement following the outcome that employees “heard way more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers and media shops than they heard from us.”

Why some voted ‘no’

Amazon’s messaging within the conferences was extra convincing for some BHM1 employees than others.

One Bessemer worker, who began working at Amazon final yr, stated he felt Amazon used some scare techniques when speaking to employees in regards to the union but in addition informed CNBC he did not perceive how the union would assist employees at BHM1. This particular person, who requested for anonymity to stop retaliation, stated the RWDSU didn’t clarify what they had been going to do for employees and didn’t reply to his request for details about how they’d helped workers at different job websites.

Past his doubts in regards to the RWDSU, this worker stated he is additionally had a primarily optimistic expertise working for Amazon. Whereas some employees complained in regards to the traumatic, demanding nature of the job, he stated a earlier building job ready him for the bodily labor of warehouse work, so he finds it simple. Amazon’s pay and advantages are additionally a step up from his earlier job.

Ultimately, this employee voted towards unionization.

In personal Fb teams the place Amazon employees interact with one another, different BHM1 workers shared their ideas in regards to the union marketing campaign. One employee feared that if the union was voted in, workers would lose entry to sure advantages offered by Amazon, similar to its upskilling program, the place Amazon pays a share of tuition prices to coach warehouse employees for jobs in different high-demand fields.

One other employee felt {that a} union wasn’t obligatory, asserting that in case you work exhausting you’ll be able to succeed at Amazon: “I voted no. Amazon is only a sport, with guidelines. Study the principles, play the sport, transfer up, win.”

Obligatory conferences

Some BHM1 employees discovered Amazon’s anti-union messaging too aggressive.

One BHM1 worker who works as a stower, which includes transferring objects into vacant storage bins all through the ability, stated Amazon designed the texts, fliers and necessary conferences to convey a message that the union would not assist anyone. This employee requested anonymity out of concern for dropping his job.

The employee, who voted for the union, stated he was cautious of displaying help for unionization in entrance of Amazon and his coworkers, and was nervous to ask questions, as an alternative enjoying dumb to keep away from getting fired.

Aerial view of the Amazon facility the place employees will vote on wether to unionize, in Bessemer, Alabama, March 5, 2021.

Dustin Chambers | Reuters

In a single necessary assembly held earlier than ballots had been distributed in February, this employee stated, Amazon sought to solid doubt on how employees’ dues can be spent by telling employees that the RWDSU spent greater than $100,000 a yr on autos for workers. The employee was skeptical of Amazon’s presentation, considering that Amazon doubtless spent much more on vehicles annually than the union did.

Union President Stuart Appelbaum stated in an interview that the RWDSU purchases vehicles for some representatives whose job it’s to journey from office to office to signify and repair members. 

Amazon stated it wished to clarify to employees, significantly these with no earlier data of unions, {that a} union is a enterprise that collects dues and clarify how these dues could also be used.

In one other necessary assembly, the 2 Bessemer employees informed CNBC, Amazon circulated examples of earlier contracts the RWDSU had received, attempting to focus on the union’s shortcomings. Amazon additionally asserted that the RWDSU was primarily a poultry employees’ union that had restricted expertise representing warehouse employees. 

Appelbaum stated poultry employees make up a major share of the RWDSU’s membership in Alabama, and most of the organizers who led the marketing campaign, and approached Amazon employees outdoors BHM1 as they wrapped up their shifts, got here from close by poultry vegetation. The union also represents workers in other industries, including retail, food production, nonprofit and cannabis, said RWDSU spokesperson Chelsea Connor.

In response to questions about whether it characterized the RWDSU as a poultry union, Amazon said it sought to highlight to workers how well, or poorly, the union might understand their employer.

During the meetings, Amazon also sought to highlight negative outcomes that could arise from voting for the union. Amazon told workers the union could force workers to go on strike and that employees could lose their benefits in the future, workers told CNBC.

The RWDSU’s Mid-South office, which led the organizing at Amazon, countered Amazon’s claim that the union would force BHM1 workers to go on strike, calling it a “fear tactic,” according to communications distributed to workers. 

“Amazon has insinuated that the union will ‘pull you out on a strike,'” said Randy Hadley, president of the Mid-South Council, in a February letter to workers, which also addresses other claims made by Amazon. “Here are the facts, our membership and our membership ONLY controls whether or not to strike by a super majority. This means nearly 4,000 Amazon workers would have to vote to go on strike. A strike can be useful when needed, but it is also very, very rare. This is yet another fear tactic by Amazon.”

Amazon said it sought to point out to workers that if a union is voted in, the union could call for a strike, as it’s the union’s main leverage over an employer.

In response to questions asking whether it told workers they could lose their benefits if a union is voted in, Amazon said it looked to inform employees, as part of general education about unions, that there are many outcomes that can result from collective bargaining negotiations.

Not the last effort

Amazon employees, labor leaders and worker advocates are hopeful that the loss in Alabama won’t be the last attempt at organizing the retail giant’s sprawling workforce. 

There may be future campaigns at BHM1, too. The worker who voted for the union said some pro-union employees have discussed the possibility of approaching the Teamsters and pursuing a future union campaign at their warehouse.

Elsewhere, Amazon workers and labor unions are considering different organizing strategies. The Teamsters is communicating with Amazon drivers and warehouse workers at a facility in Iowa and considering paths to rally workers beyond the election process. Amazon workers in Chicago have formed a group to organize employees at facilities in the area, called Amazonians United Chicagoland.

A employee at an Amazon facility in New Jersey, who additionally requested anonymity, stated they beforehand approached a union about organizing their facility. After seeing the end result in Bessemer, the employee stated they are going again to the drafting board and looking out into extra casual techniques for attaining leverage.

Susan Schurman, a professor at Rutgers College’s College of Administration and Labor Relations, pointed to the Alphabet Staff Union, a lately fashioned minority union of greater than 800 Google workers, as a possible mannequin for Amazon employees.

In contrast to conventional unions, minority unions do not signify nearly all of employees, solely those that decide to affix. In addition they aren’t acknowledged by the NLRB, they usually do not act as bargaining brokers with employers.

Nevertheless, Schurman stated minority unions can function a “pathway to majority unions” and generally is a highly effective device for constructing employee help even earlier than launching a proper marketing campaign with the NLRB.

“Why not keep and construct a corporation and hold at it?” Schurman stated. “Let employees recruit new members and reveal the worth of a collective negotiating energy.”

Appelbaum, the RWDSU president, stated a minority union technique is “nicely price desirous about.”

“We’ve not decided on that but, however I believe we’ll have a look at it,” Appelbaum stated. “We all know we’re not going away.”

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