In a surprisingly lopsided outcome, workers at BHM1, the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., rejected the opportunity to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store (RWDSU) union. Amazon had vigorously opposed the prospect of unionization, and its victory deals a major setback to organizing efforts at the company, which employs 1.3 million people worldwide with more than 950,000 workers in the U.S. alone.
Approximately 50% of the 5,805 eligible workers at the fulfillment center cast ballots during the month-long vote that ended March 30, 2021. Workers cast 1,798 votes against unionization, well over the majority threshold of 1,521; just 738 voted for unionization, according to The New York Times. Approximately 500 ballots were challenged, mostly by Amazon.
Labor organizers and Amazon-watchers had identified the Bessemer vote as perhaps the best chance to advance unionization at the company; it was the first attempt in the U.S. to result in a vote since 2014. The RWDSU will challenge the results and has reportedly asked federal labor officials to investigate Amazon for creating an “atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals,” according to the Times.
Perhaps anticipating such protests, a blog authored by “Amazon Staff” said: “It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true. Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us. And Amazon didn’t win — our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union.”
In the blog, Amazon again touted its $15 starting minimum wage, health care from day one of employment and its addition of 500,000 jobs since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as strong indications of its status as a good place to work.
Even if the vote had gone the other way, the fight to unionize the company would have been a long one, according to Robin Gaster, President of Incumetrics and author of Behemoth: Amazon Rising. “This is not ‘shock and awe’ or the moment when the dam breaks,” he said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “This is World War I trench warfare with bayonets and mustard gas, and Amazon has plenty of weapons in its back pocket.”