Amazon prevailed Friday in its fight against labor organizing at its Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse, with workers rejecting the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union by a ratio of 2-to-1. The union’s definitive loss could be the end of the road for its effort in Bessemer, but the labor fight at Amazon may just be getting started.
The union, which has already filed an objection, argues that Amazon improperly swayed the vote, and it may yet win the chance to redo the election. Whether or not it does, the effort garnered the backing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and words of support from President Joe Biden, becoming a national story that could catalyze future attempts elsewhere — especially as reports about the working conditions continue to spill out.
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Meanwhile, Amazon is trying to position itself as a leader on labor issues and directing the conversation away from unions. In a statement Friday, the company emphasized its advocacy for a $15 federal minimum wage for the “40 million Americans who make less than the starting wage at Amazon, and many more who don’t get health care through their employers.”
Even if no warehouse workers try to organize in the near future, the scrutiny on working conditions at Amazon is likely to get even more intense. The National Labor Relations Board is reportedly considering investigating the company for a possible pattern of unfair labor practices, after receiving 37 complaints of retaliation from Amazon workers who say they were fired or disciplined for organizing walkouts or complaining about working conditions. And Amazon’s thousands of workers, called essential during the coronavirus pandemic as they processed orders while risking infection, will likely continue calling attention to conditions they say leave them exhausted, at risk of injury and in fear of losing their jobs.
“People are not going to give up,” said Kirthi Kanyalam, director of the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University. “They are too big an employer.”