The union drive at an Amazon (AMZN) warehouse in Alabama is headed for defeat, partial results from the historic election revealed. Votes against the union had a 2-1 advantage over votes for the union with half the ballots counted as of late Thursday, according to a live broadcast of the counting reported on by The New York Times.
The impending outcome concludes a high-profile, months-long labor battle that unfolded as the COVID-19 pandemic drove record sales for the e-commerce giant but exposed its warehouse employees to life-and-death safety risks.
The result would mark a significant victory for Amazon, the nation’s second-largest private sector employer, which has faced heightened criticism in recent months over the conditions in its vast warehouse network. Meanwhile, the tally strikes a blow to the labor movement, which had been eager to reverse decades of union decline and gain a foothold in the growing tech sector.
Votes were cast by 3,200 Amazon employees at the facility in Bessemer, Al., roughly 55% of the workers eligible to participate, said the the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, or RWDSU.
Workers criticized grueling conditions enforced by digital devices that they say track them every minute. Employees also claimed inadequate safety protections heightened stress and health risks tied to COVID-19. But Amazon strongly rebuked such claims, citing a host of safety measures implemented during the pandemic and a compensation package that includes benefits and entry-level pay of $15.30, more than double the federal minimum wage.
With the vote count still in progress, RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said on Thursday the labor organization would call on the labor board to “hold Amazon accountable” for allegedly illegal anti-union conduct undertaken by the tech giant. A challenge by the union at the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, could stretch on for months but, if successful, would decertify the results and require a second election.
Paul Clark, Director of Penn State’s School of Labor and Employment Relations, said prior to the final vote tally that it’s plausible Amazon may have violated labor law in its anti-union campaign.
“There’s a lot of evidence that employers often do violate because the penalties just don’t provide an incentive to abide by the law,” he says. “The union appeals, maybe the board does find irregularities, in which case they might rerun the election.”
Amazon made its anti-union position known in an aggressive campaign carried out through multiple avenues, including mandatory meetings and a website that warned of onerous dues payments. But federal labor law permits employers wide latitude in dissuading workers from supporting a labor drive.
The messages amounted to “anti-union propaganda,” Appelbaum told Yahoo Finance last month. (The company abided by all NLRB rules and guidelines as it relates to union campaigns, and believes it is important for all employees to understand all sides of the union election, Amazon told Yahoo Finance in February.)
‘Outsized’ meaning for both sides
Erik Loomis, a labor historian and professor at the University of Rhode Island, said on the last day of voting, March 29, that the outcome would carry “huge symbolic meaning” for Amazon and the labor movement.
“On the face of it, the stakes for either side shouldn’t be that big — it’s one warehouse,” says Loomis. But “the symbolic meaning of this union vote is outsized for both sides.”
“The labor movement has struggled in recent decades to transition to the new economy and this is a chance to turn the tides,” he adds. “For Amazon, it’s about control over the workplace.”
The union drive has drawn intense interest from top officials on both sides of the aisle in Washington D.C. President Joe Biden released a video in early March defending the right of workers to unionize and made reference to “workers in Alabama” without mentioning Amazon, widely perceived as an allusion to the labor battle at the tech giant.
During the final weeks of mail-in voting, which stretched from early February to late March, a worker at the plant advocated for the union at a hearing of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, chaired by progressive Senator Bernie…