by Guy Oron
On Friday, April 9, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced that the vote to form a union at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama had failed. The historic campaign, which would have made the warehouse the first unionized Amazon workplace in the United States, lost by 738 votes in favor to 1,798 against, with an additional 505 ballots being challenged.
The result comes after several months of intense campaigning by both sides. Joining the pro-union side was a broad coalition of Democratic, labor, and progressive voices from across the country, including sitting president Joe Biden. However, the unionization drive was met with intense backlash from Amazon. The company was accused of employing a variety of union-busting tactics, including holding anti-union meetings during working hours, paying workers to quit so that they aren’t able to vote, and pressuring USPS to install a mailbox at the warehouse where voting could be monitored by Amazon officials.
While these anti-union strategies appear to have won out, it does not mean the result will go uncontested. The pro-union media group More Perfect Union suggests that Amazon’s union-busting tactics could land them in legal trouble or even cause the NLRB to throw out the results if they find that the company acted unlawfully. Last week, the NLRB found that Amazon illegally fired two Seattle employees for speaking out as part of the group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice.
Here in South Seattle and King County, many workers expressed solidarity with Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama. Mimi Harris, an Amazon warehouse worker who helped organize a solidarity rally in February, said that she felt both disappointed and inspired by the union vote result. “While I’m of course disappointed that the Bessemer workers didn’t win their union this time, they have accomplished a historic achievement, planting the seed for unionization and labor rights at one of the most exploitative companies on the planet,” said Harris in a text message to the Emerald.
Local labor groups were also determined to continue to struggle in solidarity with Amazon workers. Nicole Grant, Executive Secretary-Treasurer at MLK Labor, said, “This is not a quick fight or an easy fight … The only reason these movements have wins is because we’re relentless and keep fighting,” said Grant.
Grant also sees the unionization drive as intimately connected to labor struggles in the Seattle King County region. “What happens with Amazon workers in Bessemer is absolutely linked to what happens with Amazon workers in King County,” said Grant. “The union movement and a lot of workers and union organizers in our area showed a lot of solidarity with the workers in Bessemer. There was a lot of volunteering and rallies. So I think there is an awareness about what happened there and I think it’s strongly felt.”
MLK Labor is campaigning for federal legislation that would outlaw many of the union-busting strategies Amazon deployed in Alabama and make it easier for workers to form unions. The bill, called the PRO Act, has passed the House and is now waiting for Senate confirmation. However, due to the filibuster — a rule which effectively requires 60 votes for the Senate to pass major legislation — poses a major impediment to getting the bill passed.
Despite legislative obstacles, workers like Harris still want to see the PRO Act passed. “It’s inconceivable at this point for any Democrat or Republican who claims to support the Bessemer Amazon warehouse workers to hide behind the filibuster as an excuse for not passing the PRO Act,” which Harris said would “give workers the rights we deserve.”
Guy Oron is a Seattle-based writer and journalist. His writing has been featured in the Nation, South Seattle Emerald, Seattle Globalist, and the UW Daily.
📸 Featured Image: Two protesters in support of unionization efforts at an Amazon distribution facility in Alabama hold signs during a rally in Renton on February 20, 2021. On April 9, the National Labor Relations Board announced that workers at the warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama had rejected a plan to unionize. (Photo: Susan Fried)
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