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regular-article-logo Monday, 24 June 2024

Amazon workers defeat union drive

Amazon, which has repeatedly quashed labour activism, had appeared vulnerable as it faced increasing scrutiny in Washington and around the world

Karen Weise, Michael Corkery New York Published 10.04.21, 01:21 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. Shutterstock

Amazon appeared to beat back the most significant labour drive in its history on Friday, when an initial tally showed that workers at its giant warehouse in Alabama had voted decisively against forming a union.

Workers cast 1,798 votes against a union, giving Amazon enough to emphatically defeat the effort. Ballots in favour of a union trailed at 738, less than 30 per cent of the votes tallied, according to a preliminary count. The results will still need to be certified by federal officials.

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The lopsided outcome at the 6,000-person warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, dealt a crushing blow to labour organisers, Democrats and their allies at a time when conditions have been ripe for unions to make advances.

Amazon, which has repeatedly quashed labour activism, had appeared vulnerable as it faced increasing scrutiny in Washington and around the world for its market power and influence. President Biden signalled support for the union effort, as did Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent.

The pandemic, which drove millions of people to shop online, also spotlighted the plight of essential workers and raised questions about Amazon’s ability to keep those employees safe.

But in an aggressive campaign, the company argued that its workers had access to rewarding jobs without needing to involve a union.

The victory leaves Amazon free to handle employees on its own terms, as it has gone on a hiring spree and expanded its work force.

Margaret O’Mara, a professor at the University of Washington who researches the history of technology companies, said Amazon’s message that it offered good jobs with good wages had prevailed over the criticisms by the union and its supporters. The outcome, she said, “reads as a vindication”.

She added that while it was just one warehouse, the election had garnered so much attention that it had become a “bellwether”.

Amazon’s victory was likely to cause organised labour to think that “maybe this isn’t worth trying in other places”, O’Mara said. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the drive, blamed its defeat on what it said were Amazon’s anti-union tactics before and during the voting.

New York Times News Service

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