Last week the National Labor Relations Board finished tallying the union election votes at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama warehouse facility. The union lost – 1,798 against vs. 738 votes for unionization. A huge defeat for organized labor.
Challenges to the election are in process, but as far as challenged ballots go there are not enough “questionable” ballots to overturn the election results. 76 votes were thrown out.
The union that lost was the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union.
Now, yes this is down South, and yes, Amazon aggressively campaigned against union organization, so one might expect the employer to squeak out a narrow win. However, considering to start, Amazon is a mega corporation that does not garner much in the way of the public or worker sympathy, and then add in the fact the President Joe Biden himself publicly pushed for the union to win against Amazon, an over 2.5 to 1 loss ratio really seems to say union’s do not have much to offer today’s workers.
The union is challenging the election on other grounds as well. The union is alleging Amazon committed unfair labor practices during the run up to the election. The writ of union grievances involve employer “mistruths and lies” told during mandatory anti-union meetings. This is a common complaint anytime an employer counters the “information” the union organizers provide or fail to provide. The issue of mandatory anti-union meetings is also a red herring and is used to protest meetings that the company legally holds (paying for the time employees sit in the meeting) to educate about what unions can and cannot do as well as state its position on union organizing. Something employers have every legal right to do.
Interestingly, Amazon went beyond at-work meetings and used the internet, radio, and tv and social media to communicate their position(s). This has to be upsetting to the union given they typically spend months communicating openly and not so openly with workers before an election petition is put out there as well as using these other media resources. Many times, in the face of an open organizing drive that includes community outreach by the union, the employer “hunkers down” and does not use outside media out of fear the public will respond negatively to the employer’s union-free messaging.
Amazon’s messaging to workers during the organizing drive was that they pay good wages and have good jobs. Why is an outside third party needed? And why should you, as a wage-earning worker, pay a union some of your wages every month for whatever service they might provide?
This is the secret to staying union free. Pay fairly. Treat your workers right, and make sure your managers and supervisors do the right things.
Going forward employers are going to have to get better at this. Pro-labor legislation called the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act has already passed in the House of Representatives. If passed, this law would significantly change the National Labor Relations Act.
If passed, the legislation will:
Roll back of Right to Work, now the law in 27 states including Michigan. Return to mandatory union dues payment or loss of the employment if a worker does not want to be in a union. Unions would have guaranteed funding and workers could not hold the union accountable by withholding membership and their dues monies.
Outlawing employer meetings that require attendance of workers.
The law would expand the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) authority to impose fines and broader punishments on employers for alleged unfair labor practices.
It also expands how the bargaining unit is made up. Workers eligible for unionization would also include person’s that work for temporary staffing firms. This part of the law completely changes who is a worker and employee of the company. It eliminates contract workers and treats the contracting employer or a franchisor as a joint employer with the organization providing the workers or the franchisees employees. Goodbye Uber and Lyft and also possibly franchise businesses.
There are also a couple of other little-known features in the PRO act that are cloaked in the guise of “studies”. This is code for let’s see how radical we can really get. One “study” component would look at Sectoral Bargaining. Sectoral bargaining is when a large part of an industry is organized, and the union bargains for workers in the entire industry. The other “study” would be on selective voluntary waiver of pre-emption. This would impact multi-state employers. It would give the state government power (pre-emption) to supersede federal labor law. Thus, resulting in a patchwork of labor law that multi state employers would have to navigate.
In the meantime, unions are changing their strategies to better organize. In addition to workplace actions such as walkouts, unions are engaging the local communities to in turn put pressure on company executives to stay out of the way of organizing.
Bolstered by the most pro-labor president in decades (it is said Biden is a true believer) as opposed to just a politician that is pro labor for their endorsement, Biden’s administration will do whatever it can to tilt the labor law in favor of unions.
Employers that wish to remain union free and in control of their businesses should do a check of its management and employment policies. Is the business paying fairly? Am I listening to my workers when they have concerns about fair treatment or safety? And are my managers and supervisors trained to avoid creating problems and issues, and are they watching out for organizing activities and the issues that lead to it?
These are all concerns that ASE has tools and resources its members have access to as part of their membership.
Sources: Amazon Workers Vote Down Union But Challenge Looms Law 360. (4/9/2021); NLRB Announces Results in Amazon Election, Office of Congressional and Public Affairs; House Passes Labor Rights Expansion, but Senate Chances are Slim. New York Times (3/9/2021); Union Loss May Bring New Phase of Campaign Against Amazon New York Times (4/9/2021)