1912 Lawrence Textile Strike

After months and months of union-busting, Amazon got what it wanted: A majority of workers at its Bessemer, Alabama, fulfillment center has voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Out of the 6,000 workers employed at Bessemer, about half voted in the union election; 1,798 voted against unionizing and 738 voted for it. More than 500 votes were challenged, mostly by the company.

The two-to-one ratio against unionizing — if you ignore those 500 challenged votes — is somewhat surprising given that over half of the employees at the warehouse had signed union cards. Only 30 percent is needed to prompt a vote.

It's understandable people might feel a tad disheartened — especially knowing how much it would mean not just for these workers, but for workers across America, if they had voted to unionize — but it's not quite as over as you might think.


Already, the RWDSU is filing an objection to the vote with the National Labor Relations Board "charging that Amazon interfered with the right of its Bessemer, Alabama employees to vote in a free and fair election." They are arguing, quite reasonably, that Amazon's anti-union conduct went way too far and created an atmosphere of intimidation that resulted in employees being too afraid to unionize.

"Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees," RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum said. "We won't let Amazon's lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote. Amazon knew full well that unless they did everything they possibly could, even illegal activity, their workers would have continued supporting the union. That's why they required all their employees to attend lecture after lecture, filled with mistruths and lies, where workers had to listen to the company demand they oppose the union. That's why they flooded the internet, the airwaves and social media with ads spreading misinformation. 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. Amazon's conduct has been despicable."

It's true. Amazon put up signs all over the warehouse saying "Do It Without Dues!" suggesting employees could get all of the benefits of a union without having to pay dues even though they were not currently getting any of those benefits, and also operated a ridiculous and now non-existent website, www.doitwithoutdues.com, to claim the same.

Alabama is an extremely anti-union Right to Work For Less state, which means that workers freeloaders who don't want to join a union and pay dues don't have to, although the union will still be required to represent their interests.

The company also offered workers $2000 resignation bonuses to quit on the spot, likely in hopes of being able to deliberately replace as many pro-union workers with anti-union workers as they could. They asked Jefferson County authorities to shorten the duration of red lights in the vicinity of the warehouse, claiming they just wanted to prevent traffic jams. Union members, however, say this was a union busting tactic meant to make it so organizers weren't able to talk to workers in their cars on the way to and from work.

Union organizers have also been intimidated and harassed by local police, who have confirmed they were hired to work off duty as security guards by Amazon in order to "keep an eye on them." Also, after the NLRB denied Amazon's petition to have a dropbox for ballots on their property, they successfully went and had the United States Postal Service install a mailbox in a tent outside the warehouse for the purpose of voting in the election, which many workers felt sure was being monitored.

If the company were just routinely pulling workers off the floor to lecture them on how bad unions are, or putting signs up everywhere saying "Please, we beg of you, don't join a union that will make us pay you more and give you better benefits and make it more difficult for us to fire you for no reason!" that would be sketchy enough, but it's likely that at least one of these more extreme tactics will be found to be illegal. And that would invalidate the vote.

Amazon's own behavior has put the legality of this vote into question, to the extent that it very likely will not hold up. The RWDSU, at least, is confident that it won't.

"Working people deserve better than the way Amazon has conducted itself during this campaign." Appelbaum said. "This campaign has proven that the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is to join together in a union. However, Amazon's behavior during the election cannot be ignored and our 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."

Let's hope!

And even, in the end, if this particular warehouse does not end up unionizing, there will be another vote at another warehouse or another plant and that will be a success. Because things are changing, and it's becoming increasingly clear to more and more people that letting collective bargaining fall to the wayside did not turn out so great for workers. Whether Amazon likes it or not, the labor movement is back.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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