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Union Drive Fails at Amazon—But Saga’s Not Over Yet

Amazon secured enough votes on Friday to defeat a unionization drive at its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., the first such efforts from organized labor at the e-commerce behemoth.

The vote count tallied 1,798 opposing the union and 738 votes in favor of joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) of the 3,215 ballots cast, according to a CNBC report. In order to defeat the attempt to organize, Amazon needed to garner 1,608 votes, which would have been over the 50 percent threshold to organize the workers, it added.

The RWDSU immediately announced it is filing objections to the conduct of the election and related unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The RWDSU will request that the NLRB regional director schedule a hearing on its objections to determine if the results of the election should be set aside because “conduct by the employer created an atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals and thus interfered with the employees’ freedom of choice.”

“Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, said in a statement. “Amazon knew full well that unless they did everything they possibly could, even illegal activity, their workers would have continued supporting the union.”

Applebaum claimed that’s why Amazon allegedly required all employees to attend “lecture after lecture, filled with mistruths and lies, where workers had to listen to the company demand they oppose the union.”

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“That’s why they flooded the Internet, the airwaves and social media with ads spreading misinformation,” he added. “That’s why they brought in dozens of outsiders and union-busters to walk the floor of the warehouse. That’s why they bombarded people with signs throughout the facility and with text messages and calls at home. And that’s why they have been lying about union dues in a right to work state.”

Applelbaum said the union “will seek remedy to each and every improper action Amazon took. We won’t rest until workers’ voices are heard fairly under the law. When they are, we believe they will be victorious in this historic and critical fight to unionize the first Amazon warehouse in the United States.”

For its part, Amazon told Sourcing Journal in a statement that in the end, less than 16 percent of the employees at the facility voted to join the RWDSU union.

“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true,” Amazon said. “Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers and media outlets than they heard from us…Our employees are the heart and soul of Amazon, and we’ve always worked hard to listen to them, take their feedback, make continuous improvements, and invest heavily to offer great pay and benefits in a safe and inclusive workplace. We’re not perfect, but we’re proud of our team and what we offer, and will keep working to get better every day.”

The company said that there are 40 million Americans who make less than the starting wage at Amazon, and many more who don’t get health care through their employers, and “we think that should be fixed.”

“We welcome the opportunity to sit down and share ideas with any policymaker who wants to pass laws ensuring that all workers in the U.S. are guaranteed at least $15 an hour, health care from day one and other strong benefits,” Amazon added. “Our employees have seen tremendous benefit from what we offer and we think every American family deserves the same. We believe that we can work better together instead of against each other to pass those important laws, and we hope that’s what will happen in the months and years ahead.”

Randy Korgan, director of Amazon for the Teamsters Union, commended the RWDSU’s efforts to organize Amazon workers in Alabama.

“Despite going up against one of the world’s richest men in a country with weak labor laws, the workers in Bessemer brought national attention to issues that many non-union workers face in this industry,” said Randy Korgan, the Teamsters national director for Amazon. “This fight is not over, and the Teamsters will always support workers who want to build power by standing together and demanding dignity, a safe workplace, and a fair return on their work.”

The National Retail Federation, which includes members that have workers represented by the RWDSU, said the vote shows the process works and employees can make an informed decision despite the enormous scrutiny under which this campaign was conducted.

“Union representation is a choice for workers, but many clearly prefer opportunities in a competitive marketplace that provides strong wages and benefits over the anonymity of a collective bargaining agreement,” David French, senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation, said.