Why Amazon workers in Alabama voted against union

Alabama Amazon employees shared concerns about job security, pay and benefits

Amazon.com Inc. employees in Alabama who sided against unionization said they had broad concerns about job security and grew convinced that their pay and benefits might not markedly increase with the help of a union.

The resounding victory for Amazon, the nation's second-largest private employer, came after it organized what proved to be a successful local campaign, highlighting the company's strengths and questioning the union's benefits. Nationally, Amazon grew vocal in pushing back against criticism about its workplace conditions, including when a top executive engaged in disputes with members of Congress on Twitter.

Analysts say the defeat of unionization will strengthen Amazon after what has already been a year of tremendous growth and success fueled by the pandemic. The tech giant's revenue last year soared 38% to $386 billion, and its profit nearly doubled, as it added 500,000 people to its global workforce.

Some workers said Amazon helped steer their vote against unionization. Other employees said they didn't need convincing by Amazon and were against unionizing from the start.

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Amazon pointed to its minimum wage of $15 an hour, double the state's minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which is also the federal minimum. The company also highlighted its healthcare and retirement benefits.

Workers said they were wary of the cost of union dues and not persuaded that the union would be able to add significantly to their pay or improve benefits. In the end, less than 16% of the facility's total workforce voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

"I work hard for my money, and I don't want any of it going to a union that maybe can get us more pay, or maybe can get us longer breaks," said Melissa Charlton Myers, a 41-year-old employee at the Bessemer, Ala., facility that voted on unionization. "It's not worth the risk."

In company meetings, which some employees described as mandatory, Amazon gave them details about other contracts the RWDSU had negotiated on behalf of employees in other industries. The bargaining agreements that Amazon showed employees didn't seem to indicate that there would be a substantial difference, said Cori Jennings, 40, another worker who voted against unionization.

The union has cited U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data that show union members on average earning more than nonunion members.

Less than 16% of the facility's total workforce voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. (AP Photo/Bill Barrow)

In a news conference Amazon organized Friday, some workers who sided against unionizing said they still sought changes at the facility, such as added training for managers. However, the workers said, they believed they could resolve issues with the company without a third party.

Also playing a role were fears about possible repercussions of forming a union, including the possibility that Amazon would shut down the facility if they decided to unionize, some employees said. Others worried the company would nix plans for two other facilities it had announced last year that it plans to open in a nearby area.

Amazon declined to comment.

Pro-union workers said they wanted more say over break times, how they are monitored by the company and the rate at which they are expected to sort and move packages. The union is expected to appeal the vote.


Iwan Barankay, a labor economist at the University of Pennsylvania, said while unionizing efforts can be popular among employees at the start of drives, the messages from companies over time can wear on employees -- especially if it threatens their livelihood.

"The location of this plant plays a role," Mr. Barankay said. Alabama has many low-income residents, "and other opportunities are not so readily available. These people might really feel the difficulty of living through a pandemic."

The union vote removes one major challenge for Amazon, though others loom.

Late last year, a congressional panel asserted that Amazon has amassed "monopoly power" over sellers on its site, bullied retail partners and improperly used seller data to compete with rivals. Amazon said at the time that "large companies are not dominant by definition, and the presumption that success can only be the result of anti-competitive behavior is simply wrong."

Amazon employees in Alabama who sided against unionization said they had broad concerns about job security and grew convinced that their pay and benefits might not markedly increase with the help of a union. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves, File)

Congress is now considering the most significant changes to antitrust law in decades, including proposals that would make it easier for the government to challenge anticompetitive behavior or force tech giants to separate lines of business.

This week, meanwhile, merchant groups announced a national coalition to campaign for stricter antitrust laws. The effort adds to state and federal investigations and lawsuits Amazon has faced over its power and workplace conditions. Amazon has said its business model has benefited both consumers and the millions of independent sellers that sell on its site.

Amazon isn't finished confronting labor battles. As ballot-processing took place in the Bessemer election, a small number of employees held a protest at a Chicago facility over working conditions. Workers in Europe recently went on strike over similar issues, and the National Labor Relations Board during the past year has found the company at fault on multiple occasions of retaliating against workers who have spoken out on different issues. Amazon has said disciplinary measures with workers are due to violations of workplace policies. The company has said the Chicago protest didn't disrupt its operations.

Still, Amazon's victory in the election gives the company flexibility in running its warehouse, said Sucharita Kodali, an e-commerce analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "They want to be able to make changes quickly and as they see fit" without disruption, she said.

As voting wrapped up in Bessemer, Amazon and its executives became more vocal. Dave Clark, chief executive of Worldwide Consumer, published tweets taking aim at Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a frequent Amazon critic who supported unionization in Bessemer and called CEO Jeff Bezos greedy.


"I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that's not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace," Mr. Clark tweeted on March 24, referring to Amazon's $15 minimum wage being higher than Vermont's $11.75 per-hour wage. President Biden and celebrities such as the actor Danny Glover had joined Mr. Sanders in supporting the Alabama workers.

"All I want to know is why the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, is spending millions trying to prevent workers from organizing," Mr. Sanders responded on Twitter the same day.

Amazon's news account similarly tweeted defenses of the company. Some of them backfired. The company apologized after publishing a tweet on March 24 by its news account that it said incorrectly challenged accounts of workers having to at times urinate in bottles because of Amazon's demanding schedule to deliver packages.