The Battle at Bessemer Continues: NLRB to Hear Union Objections to Vote at Amazon Warehouse
May 05, 2021
On April 9, 2021, all eyes were on Bessemer, Alabama as votes were counted in the most highly publicized union vote in recent memory. President Biden, politicians, activists, nonprofits, and celebrities all weighed in, and significant resources were spent by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union and Amazon during the two-month long campaign. The import of this vote cannot be understated. Although Amazon's Bessemer warehouse is relatively small—having around 5,900 workers—Amazon's workforce is in excess of 800,000. To date, Amazon has avoided unionization at any of its American warehouses. A successful union campaign in Bessemer, however, could have had a domino effect not just throughout Amazon's other locations across the United States, but potentially across the South where unions have traditionally faced resistance. If unions got a foothold in the previously impenetrable Amazon workforce, union campaigns could gain traction anywhere. The stakes and expectations were high for the vote at Bessemer.
Expectations, especially for those hoping for a successful campaign, did not appear to meet the hype. Fewer than half of the warehouse’s 5,900 employees cast ballots. Of the ballots cast, the vote was overwhelmingly against unionization—2:1 against, with 1,798 employees voting against the Union, compared to 738 that voted for it. While some might have seen the results as striking a heavy blow to unionization in the modern era, others saw the vote as progress. In 2014, there was a prior attempt to unionize an Amazon warehouse, and the 2021 Bessemer campaign garnered the largest vote at any Amazon warehouse to date.
Indeed, the April 9 vote is not the final word on this issue. The Union filed a list of 23 separate objections to the campaign and vote at Bessemer. These complaints ranged from the existence and location of a collection box in the parking lot and allegedly uneven enforcement of social distancing policies, to the presence of police and alleged threats of layoffs and site closure. A hearing before the National Labor Relations Board is set for May 7, 2021, at which time the Union will present its evidence in support of its objections. The NLRB could find grounds for overturning the election at Bessemer. Given the new leaders at the NLRB, appointed by President Biden several months ago, this hearing will be one of the first major tests for the agency in this administration.
We will have to wait and see what evidence the Union has to offer and what position the NLRB will take. Both could strongly reverberate throughout the American workforce. Already, there are calls for reform, urging organized labor to move away from traditional votes like Bessemer, and embrace public relations campaigns and online social pressure on executives. New legislation may also be a factor, as the House of Representatives passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act back in March, which would alter much of the traditional union campaign and voting rules. Taken together, the stage is set for organized labor to see some significant changes.