No amount of support from Democrats — including President Biden — could save the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) from suffering a blowout loss at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama earlier this month. The RWDSU received just 738 votes in favor of being represented by the union from the group of nearly 5,800 workers. For those without a calculator handy, that’s less than 13 percent of employees.
Unwilling to admit defeat, the RWDSU claimed workers only voted against the union because they were victims of an intimidation campaign launched by Amazon. Before the vote count was even finalized, the RWDSU lodged complaints about the election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and notified the board that it intended to file unfair labor practice charges against the company. Union President Stuart Appelbaum even blamed the loss on a “very strange mailbox” that Amazon set up on its property for ballot collection.
The more likely cause of the union’s defeat? Its inability to convince Amazon employees that joining the RWDSU and paying union dues was in their best interest.
Several employees who opposed the union detailed the reasoning behind their decision during a press conference hosted by Amazon after the vote. Many noted that the RWDSU’s claims that workers were being mistreated didn’t reflect their time with the company.
“I personally didn’t see the need for a union,” said Graham Brooks, an Amazon employee who joined the company because he could be paid more than he was earning as a local reporter. “If I was being treated differently, I may have voted differently.” “I was able to come in Day 1 with benefits, and that could have possibly made the difference in life or death,” added Carla Johnson, an Amazon employee who discovered she had brain cancer shortly after beginning her employment in the warehouse.
On social media, another worker commented: “It’s useless to settle for a bad union and be stuck paying dues for an organization that isn’t working for you.” Even the World Socialist Website reported that the union “made little effort to talk directly to workers at all.” It’s no wonder workers weren’t sold on the merits of membership.
Employees’ voices were heard in Alabama. But the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) — misguided labor-backed legislation before Congress — would make it much harder for workers to have a say in their representation. Instead, Congress should reconsider the Employee Rights Act (ERA), which would guarantee secret ballot elections, periodic union recertifications, and give members greater control over their dues dollars.