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The Alabama Amazon Union Vote: What Happened?

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In Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon warehouse workers fought to get enough votes to unionize. The struggle lasted from April to November 2021. While there was a high amount of momentum in the campaign to unionize, unfortunately, the votes fell short as only 738 workers voted in favor. The total of 1,798 votes against the unionization prevailed, which leaves questions to those who fought vigorously for the unionization. What influenced the majority of the Bessemer Amazon warehouse workers to vote down on the unionization? Was there foul play coming from the labor leaders? Could the higher ups in the factory tampered confidence within the labor circles? But more importantly, why would the majority of the warehouse not vote in favor of unionization, especially when standards of living are being driven lower and lower for the majority of workers?

The National Labor Relations Board has called out a foul play on Amazon’s part and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union has accused Amazon of going out of their way to discourage workers from voting in favor of unionizing. To go further with the accusation, the NLRB director, Lisa Henderson, insists that one of the reasons the union vote fizzled was a massive miscommunication, on part of the company’s insistence of planting a mailbox in front of the fulfillment center to collect the employee’s mail in ballot votes, “By causing the Postal Service to install a cluster mailbox unit, communicating and encouraging employees to cast their ballots using the mailbox, wrapping the mailbox with its slogan, and placing the mailbox at a location where employees could reasonably believe they were being surveilled, the Employer engaged in objectionable conduct that warrants setting aside the election, the Employer’s flagrant disregard for the Board’s typical mail-ballot procedure compromised the authority of the Board and made a free and fair election impossible,” states Henderson. Of course, the statement given by Hednerson, could possibly point out plausible deniability on Amazon’s part, in order to play up their image of benevolence.

Speaking of plausible deniability, Amazon spokesperson, Kelly Nantel, expresses “disappointment” of the NLRB’s denouncement of the votes and expresses that, “Our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they overwhelmingly chose not to join the RWDSU earlier this year.” Gee, doesn’t that statement sound familiar? Haven’t we heard similar statements such as “giving voters the right to choose their preferred candidate but they overwhelmingly vote against the most popular candidate”? Think about the majority of Democratic voters preferring Bernie Sanders during the 2016 and 2020 Democratic primaries, yet ultimately being beating by a far less popular candidate (i.e. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden). Nantel goes further to justify the lack of a need for unions as, “we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees.Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes—quickly…The benefits of direct relationships between managers and employees can’t be overstated…these relationships allow every employee’s voice to be heard, not just the voices of a select few. While we’ve made great progress in important areas like pay and safety, we know there are plenty of things that we can keep doing better, both in our fulfillment centers and in our corporate offices, and that’s our focus—to work directly with our employees to keep getting better every day,” The aforementioned statement, also sounds eerily similar to every Democratic politicians answer as to why popular policies such as Medicare For All, student debt cancellation, ending regime change wars, ending the filibuster, abolishing the electoral college, free college for all, etc. “are not in the best interests for our citizens,” in the most patronizing fashion.

But hey, the relationships between managers and employees “are always improving” because the voices of employees are “heard”, just like every voter’s voices are “heard”. It cannot be overstated that just because our voices are “heard”, it does not guarantee our voices to be taken seriously. In fact, this gives everyone in power an excuse to outright ignore our demands because we’ve heard already. Whatever benefit is offered to you, while it goes at the expense of your fellow workers, it is important to adopt tunnel vision, as you cannot lose focus on the mission. “Hey, we won’t encourage you to vote in favor of joining a union, so in consultation, we’ll give you extended bathroom breaks in our fulfillment centers.” If such a statement is spoken to you, we encourage you to simply reply, “Who Cares? We want a union!” If a company tries to silence us by offering a more “diverse” management, again, we must state “Who Cares? We want a union!” “But this labor union leader referred to this worker by the wrong pronouns!” “Who cares? We want a union!” It must be taken with suspicion everytime someone in power offers anything less than a popular demand, we must always be vigilant of friendly rebuttals to our demands. Above all, we must not lose focus on our mission. Whatever social faux pas a labor union organizer possesses or whatever sensitivity training management offers, reject such claims, even if true, as they are mere distractions in union organizing and overall, building working class power.

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