Union drive at Amazon warehouse fails after bitter campaign

Glenn CHAPMAN, with Rob Lever in Washington
·2-min read

A contentious unionization drive at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama failed as a vote count Friday showed a wide majority of workers rejecting the move.

In a tally available online, National Labor Relations Board officials recorded a "no" vote majority of 1,798 to 738, a stinging defeat in the push to create the first labor union at a US-based Amazon facility.

The NLRB was still tallying hundreds of disputed and voided ballots in the election which was likely to face challenges from union activists who claimed the US tech and retail giant used unfair tactics.

The results cap a bruising months-long battle that has sparked intense debate over workplace conditions at Amazon, which has more than 800,000 US employees.

Unions and political leaders have argued that Amazon employees face constant pressure and monitoring, with little job protection, highlighting the need for collective bargaining.

Amazon has argued that most of its workers don't want or need a union and that it already provides more than most other employers, with a minimum $15 hourly wage and other benefits.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which organized the drive, said it would challenge the outcome, arguing that Amazon had "created an atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals and thus interfered with the employees' freedom of choice."

- Drop-box intimidation -

The labor group claimed workers were bombarded with anti-union messages, and claimed the company's use of a drop-box outside the warehouse could have intimidated employees.

"Amazon knew full well that unless they did everything they possibly could, even illegal activity, their workers would have continued supporting the union," said RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum.

"That's why they required all their employees to attend lecture after lecture, filled with mistruths and lies, where workers had to listen to the company demand they oppose the union."

Appelbaum said Amazon's use of a postal drop box on its grounds "provided a clear ability to intimidate workers."

- Bitter pill for labor -

The Amazon drive was seen as a watershed for a diminished US labor movement, with activists aiming to use the Alabama warehouse as a catalyst for other organizing efforts.

Brookings Institution senior fellow Darrell West said the Amazon effort was "a test case for whether the digital economy would go the same route as the industrial economy."

"If the union vote fails, it will deflate the broader effort to unionize other parts of the digital economy," West said,

Will Brucher, an instructor at the Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations, said the organizing drive still may help the broader labor movement.

"Amazon won this battle, but the war may not be over," Brucher said.

"Pro-union workers can continue to organize, press for improvements in working conditions, and perhaps win another election in the future. Community-based, grassroots organizing can succeed, even against a powerful employer like Amazon."

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