New York, NY – Amazon’s outrageous gaming of an already rigged system that makes it easier for an egomaniacal billionaire to blast himself into outer space, than it is for his exploited, underpaid employees to organize their workplace — has set the stage for new union election at the company’s Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center [warehouse].
And this time, the head of the union fighting to organize those workers says things will be different — largely because oligarchic astro-nut Jeff Bezos and company have gone too far.
“During the first vote, Amazon may have won the official vote, but they lost the public debate on the way they operate,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU] told me.
Big employers, including Amazon, are charged with breaking existing labor law in 55.4-percent of union elections that the National Labor Relations Board oversees.
According to Appelbaum, Amazon pressured Bessemer employees to cast their ballots early in the seven-week voting process stretching from February 8, to March 29.
“Part of the problem with last election,” he says, “was people felt compelled by Amazon [to vote against the union] even before they had the opportunity to engage with the union in a meaningful way. Amazon tried to push people to vote immediately — encouraging them to bring their ballots to the workplace and mail them there.”
That, Appelbaum, maintains, led to a lot of regret from workers who wanted to change their vote later on, but couldn’t.
“Many people who voted earlier on in the process came to us and wanted to change their vote, when they weren’t able to,” he says. “The atmosphere in the warehouse changed so much in the seven weeks. But most votes were already cast.”
Amazon’s corruption has grown so transparent, thanks in large part to the NLRB hearing officer’s findings, that many of those Bessemer workers who regretted voting against unionization the first time around, are now serving on RWDSU organizing committees and pushing hard for unionization.
“Unlike last time, we won’t be starting from scratch,” Appelbaum says. “People have a greater understanding [now] of what the union is about before they vote. We’ve lifted the curtain on the way Amazon sought to corrupt the election process. Workers are aware of that now.”
Sadly, for working people in Bessemer and across the nation, existing labor law will continue to exist, even if the NLRB decides, in the coming weeks, to order a new election in Alabama.
HR 842, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, isn’t going to be enacted in time — if at all, thanks to the filibuster, to make a difference in the election. So, they’ll still be playing under the same old set of anti-worker rules and regulations that Amazon was so easily able to subvert and exploit it its advantage the first time they held a union vote in Bessemer earlier this year.
Amazon will continue to brazenly fire pro-union workers [like Chris Smalls, David Jamel Williams, Rashad Long and others]; interfere with the election process, stall, coerce, intimidate obfuscate, and otherwise do everything in the book to crush unionization efforts yet again.
Amazon’s turnover rate is a whopping 150 percent annually. The company employed plenty of dirty tricks to jack up the playing field in its favor. But one of the most crucial things it did under existing labor law was explode the bargaining unit in Bessemer from 1,500 full-time and part-time employees to 5,800 employees.
They did that by forcing temporary and seasonal employees into the mix — groups of workers Amazon knew were less invested in their positions and, therefore, less likely to care about unionization.
The company has not responded to requests for comment, but immediately after the NLRB hearing officer determined Amazon violated U.S. labor law, Amazon bemoaned the “noisy time” [free speech] surrounding the initial Bessemer vote, and said its employees voted overwhelmingly in favor of a “direct connection with their managers and the company.”
That’s the same thing Amazon Vice-President of Public Policy Brian Huseman told the New York City Council in 2019, before the e-commerce giant abruptly scrapped plans to build an East Coast headquarters in the borough of Queens.
City Council members had asked Amazon to simply remain neutral in the event future employees of the new facility might want to unionize.
But Huseman balked, telling elected officials, in part, the “direct connection” it has with its employees is the best way to “respond to the concerns of the workforce.”
“What they said [then and now] was typical crap from an employer,” Appelbaum says. “The [NLRB] is saying it was an unfair election. The results can’t be respected because of the way Amazon conducted itself. Amazon is saying, ‘We stole the election. We stole it, so it’s ours.’”
Amazon is poised to become the largest U.S. employer in the world; it is already the uncontested e-commerce giant in the nation; and works closely with the U.S. government on issues of cybersecurity and big tech.
“For me, this is an existential fight for the labor movement,” Appelbaum says. “The issues at stake are the most important issues for working people in our society going forward. How workers are going to be treated and respected on the job — and whether or not employers are just going to treat them as another version the robots they have in their workplaces.
Just prior to the NLRB hearing officer’s findings that Amazon broke the law during the first Bessemer election, the United Brotherhood of Teamsters announced its plan to unionize Amazon from coast-to-coast.
Appelbaum welcomes the 1.4 million-member Teamsters to the fight. The RWDSU and the Teamsters were close allies in the contentious 2019 fight to keep Amazon’s “H2Q” out of New York City unless it agreed to abandoned its anti-union stance.
“We believe the fight against Amazon has to be a fight waged by the entire labor movement,” Appelbaum says. “No single union is large enough to take on Amazon by itself. This is something that needs to be a mission of the entire labor movement.”