Amazon strike

AMAZON'S REPUTATION PRECEDED IT: These workers in Philadelphia were among the many who were emotionally invested in the attempt by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to organize Amazon's distribution facility in Bessemer, Ala. in a bold challenge to a firm that has resorted to bare-knuckle tactics to fend off union bids there and at other plants throughout the nation. This protest was held outside the offices of Amazon's law firm, Morgan Lewis, which also has a strong anti-union reputation. 

In a battle that mobilized the national union movement because of its symbolic importance Amazon appears to have defeated an effort by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to organize its Bessemer, Ala. distribution center by a vote of 1,798 against to 738 in favor.

Nearly 700 of the 3,215 votes cast at the 6,000-worker facility were set aside once contested by either the union or management, but even if those votes had all been pro-union, it would not have changed the outcome.

Union Will Appeal

The RWDSU has vowed to appeal on the grounds that Amazon's tactics to fend off the organizing drive violated Federal labor law.

The ballots were tallied at the National Labor Relations Board's office in Birmingham, with the process broadcast over Zoom to hundreds of media and legal observers.

Throughout the campaign, union organizers had complained about intimidation attempts by Amazon, including mandatory facility-wide meetings at which managers attempted to single out union activists and take pictures of their employee IDs.

The online giant emphasized that with no union on the premises, workers at the warehouse, 85 percent of whom are black, were being paid $15 an hour, more than twice the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

But RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum contended that Amazon had crossed the line of what's legally permitted.

'Hold It Accountable'

"Our system is broken, Amazon took full advantage of that, and we will be calling on the labor board to hold Amazon accountable for its illegal and egregious behavior during the campaign," he said. "But make no mistake about it; this still represents an important moment for working people, and their voices will be heard."

Amazon hired Morgan-Lewis, the law firm renowned for helping corporations defeat union drives that previously deployed in 2014 to thwart an organizing bid at a Delaware facility. Organizers were further hindered by the coronavirus limiting the access they could gain to workers outside the distribution facility. The fact that Alabama is one of the most anti-union states in the nation posed another obstacle in convincing workers that joining a union could significantly improve their pay and job conditions.

"The Amazon workers who voted for a union in Bessemer are already winners," Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, said in a statement. "This is just the first round. Amazon did things to intimidate and suppress the vote. The workers are filing complaints, and they will continue to stand up. They have set a fresh trend in the South, and the echoes of their bold action will reverberate for years."

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