by Alex Gallo-Brown
Last week, votes from the largest union election in recent American history — both in terms of the number of eligible workers and the media hype surrounding the campaign — were counted, and the results weren’t pretty if you’re a fan of workplace democracy, economic justice, or collective action. Only about 55% of the 5,800 eligible workers at the Amazon distribution center in Bessemer, Alabama, cast votes in an election that dragged on over the course of seven weeks. Of the 3,215 workers who did vote, only 738 chose to certify the union; 1,798 elected not to. Hundreds of additional ballots weren’t even counted, since they belonged to workers whose eligibility was contested and whose votes would not have changed the outcome, anyway.
It was a devastating outcome for organized labor, according to the national press, after weeks and months of optimism that the pro-union workers might succeed. For many who were on the outside, stories of insufficient bathroom breaks, erratic scheduling, low wages (relative to other warehouses in the area), and general job insecurity made the case for the union a slam dunk. That about 85% of the workers at Bessemer are Black and a majority women in an area of the country with a long history of civil rights struggle only added to the excitement. The workers would win in Bessemer and create a spark throughout the country, galvanizing low-wage workers everywhere to rise up and demand liberation from the conditions that have oppressed them. After decades of decline, labor unions in the U.S. would finally be reborn.Continue reading OPINION: Loss in Bessemer Was the Beginning, Not the End, of Organizing Inside Amazon