Amazon workers at an Alabama warehouse have voted against unionizing, a significant defeat for a major organizing effort that drew widespread attention as workers faced off against one of the nation’s most powerful employers.
Over half of the 3,215 employees who cast ballots that weren’t contested by either side voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the effort to unionize employees at the facility in Bessemer, Ala., according to a preliminary tally Friday overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.
The board finished counting all unchallenged votes Friday morning, after a days-long count that was announced online via livestream. It counted 1,798 votes against joining the union and 738 votes in favor.
Nearly 6,000 warehouse workers were eligible to cast ballots by mail-in vote starting in February. The union said it intended to challenge the result, which it characterized as the result of intimidation and unfair practices by Amazon during the campaign.
It was the closest Amazon workers anywhere in the U.S. had come to a union. In Bessemer, worker concerns over the company’s handling of COVID-19 workplace safety converged with the racial equity movement to set in motion one of the most closely watched American union drives in recent history.
The loss deals a blow to the RWDSU, which rode a wave of publicity uncommon in labor organizing, fueled by the spotlight that the pandemic has put on the nation’s income and racial disparities.
Unionization would have had significant effects on Amazon’s operations, including potentially paving the path for wider worker organization at the behemoth company.
Still, labor historians said the very effort marked an inflection point in the relationship between labor and the tech industry, which has grown in profits and influence while the workers who make, package and deliver its products reap disproportionately little of the gains. And it has sharpened public scrutiny of Amazon, known for exacting control of its employees and the pace of their work in its warehouses to meet the quick delivery goals customers have come to expect.