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Amazon beats back union effort in Bessemer, Alabama, as workers vote "no"

Alabama Amazon workers vote against forming union
Alabama Amazon workers vote against forming u... 00:18

Amazon has beaten back a historic effort by workers to form a collective bargaining unit in a warehouse complex in Bessemer, Alabama, with about two-thirds of ballots cast in the union election voting against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

The final count showed 1,798 votes against and 738 in favor, with about 55% of the 5,867 eligible workers casting a ballot, according to a tally by the National Labor Relations Board. Another 76 ballots were voided and 505 were challenged. The challenged ballots were not counted or opened, since they would not have changed the outcome.

In dueling press conferences held simultaneously after the vote was announced, Amazon touted the bitterly contested campaign as an expression of workers' will, while RWDSU accused the ecommerce giant of illegally manipulating the election.

"Amazon didn't win—our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union," Amazon said on a company blog. "There's been a lot of noise over the past few months, and we're glad that your collective voices were finally heard."  

The RWDSU immediately vowed to challenge the results of the election, saying that "Amazon illegally interfered in the union vote" by intimidating workers and coercing them to vote against the union.

"They lied to game the system," said RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum. "Not only did [Amazon] take full advantage of our terrible labor laws, we contend that they broke the law repeatedly in their no-holds-barred effort to stop workers from forming a union."

Accusations of malfeasance

Applebaum said Amazon told workers they needed to submit their ballots by March 1 when the deadline was March 29. He also claimed that Amazon threatened to close the facility if the union won the election and told workers to vote against unionization if they wanted to keep their jobs.

Applebaum also accused Amazon of pressuring the United States Postal Service to install a dropbox at the warehouse, after the NLRB denied the company's request for a ballot box at the site, potentially violating labor law.

Workers at the warehouse said Amazon forced employees into hour-long meetings to convince them not to unionize. Some workers said Amazon also sent private messages to workers and posted anti-union signs in hallways and bathroom stalls.

Applebaum said Amazon's mandatory lectures were "filled with mistrusts and lies." He added that the union will "seek remedy to each and every improper action Amazon took."

Amazon denied it intimidated workers. "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 [with pro-Amazon messages]," the company said in a statement.

Unconvinced of union benefits

Some Amazon workers who voted against unionizing said they weren't convinced the union would pull its weight.

Carla Johnson said she voted against the effort after a union representative couldn't explain the benefits of joining and hung up on her. Johnson, who spoke on a call orgainzed by the company, also said she was able to receive cancer treatments thanks to Amazon's health benefits.

"There's so many things that were being said and so many promises being made from the union that was just not true or factual," said Will Stokes, another worker who voted against unionizing.  

Stokes added that workers are currently in discussions to enact certain changes in the warehouse, which he did not specify. "We just feel like we can do it without the union, you know. Why pay the union to do what we can do ourselves," Stokes said.

In fact, Alabama law does not require union-represented workers to pay dues. The RWDSU said that Amazon lied to workers about paying dues in its anti-union messaging, down to the website it set up for the anti-union effort, DoItWithoutDues.com.

Mike Foster, the lead organizer for RWDSU, said he had been getting calls from workers at the warehouse apologizing and wishing they had voted differently. "These are people who voted early 'No' and they are saying their heart has changed because they have heard both sides of the story now," Foster told reporters.

Both sides now have five days to submit legal challenges contending the results of the election with the NLRB. 

Labor organizers are vowing to continue the fight for workers rights and the RWDSU has already scheduled a rally in Birmingham this Sunday. 

"If Amazon considers this a victory, they may want to reconsider because at best it is a pyrrhic victory," Applebaum said.

Biden talks unions ahead of Amazon vote 09:52

A monthlong process

The vote capped a monthslong campaign by both sides — Amazon vs. the RWDSU — that attracted national attention and occasionally devolved into high-profile Twitter fights.

The seven-week voting period for an election that was conducted by mail ended last Monday. Prior to the public portion of the vote count, Amazon and RWDSU spent more than a week with the NLRB reviewing the eligibility of all voters.

CBS News was among the hundreds of observers invited to watch the vote counting process on a Zoom call. NLRB staff counted the ballots one-by-one and called out the results of each vote "Yes" or "No."

Labor experts noted that unions face an uphill battle, especially when going up against deep-pocketed employers in southern states like Alabama where longstanding laws often disfavor organized labor.

"It is extremely hard for workers to organize a union and ridiculously easy for employers to bully them out of it," said Rebecca Givan, associate professor at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations in New Jersey. 

Givan said Amazon "spent big in Bessemer" by hiring "some of the nation's premier anti-union lawyers and relentlessly sowing fear and uncertainty among the workforce."

Progressive groups called on Congress to pass the PRO Act, legislation championed by President Joe Biden that would make it easier for workers to organize.

The Associated Press and CBS News' Irina Ivanova contributed reporting.

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