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3 years Ago
Cori Jennings started working at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, after leaving a job in the food industry. She was surprised at how much she enjoyed her work on what Amazon fulfillment-center employees call “the sort side,” scanning and sorting boxes on the warehouse floor.
“I love it, I really do,” Jennings told Insider.
She works 10 hours a day, four days a week, and touted Amazon’s benefits and her relationship with her manager as top reasons she’s a fan of the job.
After Jennings’ workplace came under unprecedented national scrutiny over a historic union vote, Jennings and most of her coworkers in Bessemer who participated in the election voted against unionizing with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union.
Voting closed on March 29. On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board’s tally showed Amazon crossing the threshold to defeat the union attempt.
Out of over 5,800 warehouse workers at this location, 3,215 cast ballots. The final tally was 1,798 votes against unionizing and 738 votes for the union, with 70.9% of valid votes counted against unionizing. The union had needed 50% plus one of the ballots to win.
Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the RWDSU, said the union intended to file objections accusing Amazon of unfair labor practices. Objections seeking to challenge the results of a failed union vote are common, Insider has reported.
In March, NBC News reported that the number of complaints about Amazon filed with the NLRB had more than tripled in the past year. The company had been denied two requests related to the union drive: an attempt to require in-person voting and an attempt to add cameras in the ballot-storage room.
The result on Friday is a major win for the corporate giant and a personal victory for two Bessemer workers Insider spoke to in March as the votes were being cast.
The Bessemer warehouse saw a visit from Sen. Bernie Sanders, national media attention, and divisions over whether to unionize. Jennings and other employees who voted against the union said Amazon already provided everything a union would. Amazon also made this argument.
Since the workers voted against forming a union, there will not be any bargaining. But the RWDSU’s director of communications, Chelsea Connor, had said in March that pro-union workers were vocal about the “time off task” system, which marks the time they are away from their stations, and about wanting to improve working conditions. Workers who were pushing for the union had also said they wanted better job security.
Jennings told Insider in March that she’d joined the ranks of the “no” voters almost immediately after receiving her ballot. She said she feared losing free time off and benefits over the course of bargaining.
Thomas Eady, a former coal miner who has worked in unionized industries before, also voted no.
He said in messages to Insider in March that he used to be “a huge pro-union person” but that his time working for unions had made him believe that his work ethic didn’t matter and that unions would value seniority over everything.
Eady said he didn’t believe unions could adequately protect against termination. “They can only act like a middleman,” he said.
In the past, Eady worked for a foundry union and a coal-mine union. He said he saw unions as “just collecting money and overpaying themselves.”
At Amazon, he works as a stower, the same role as Jennings.
“I haven’t really seen that many people who support the union” at the fulfillment center, Eady said. Eady also cited Amazon’s “decent pay and benefits” as another reason he voted against the union.
Jennings agreed. “I think we make really good money for what we do,” she said.
Amazon had touted its $15.30 minimum wage and benefits package as a reason workers did not need to unionize.
Jennings had said she worried that if the union vote passed, it would have affected morale and perks. She was also concerned about the RWDSU opposing Amazon workers’ at-will status.
Connor, the communications head for the RWDSU, told Insider in March that unions were fundamentally dedicated to opposing the at-will status. The RWDSU, and any union, she said, would have aimed to introduce grievance processes and ways for employees to seek remediation if they felt they had been unfairly terminated.
The Intercept reported on March 23 that some in Bessemer saw a generational gap in terms of union support. The publication reported that a barrage of information from Amazon’s corporate offices as well as the union and its allies had left some younger workers — those with less of a grasp of the history of American labor movements — unsure about how to vote.
“In my opinion,” an on-the-fence worker identified as Jason, 20, who also works in stow, told The Intercept, “no one around my age in the building has a clear-cut answer of how they’re going to decide.”
Amazon poured money and resources into encouraging its workers to vote no, and it appears its efforts paid off. The company’s advertising telling workers to “Do it Without Dues” used reasoning similar to what Jennings and Eady cited as their concerns.
A representative for Amazon said in an emailed statement to Insider in March: “RWDSU membership has been declining for the last two decades, but that is not justification for its president Stuart Appelbaum to misrepresent the facts. Our employees know the truth—starting wages of $15 or more, health care from day one, and a safe and inclusive workplace. We encouraged all of our employees to vote and hope they did so.”
Jennings told Insider in March that she had begun to look into ways to suspend the union if it passed. “I just don’t think I can work for this union,” she said. She comes from a union town, and many of her family members are unionized mine workers.
But she didn’t think Amazon needed a union for her to like her job. And as the red “NO” bin piled higher on Thursday night and Friday morning, it became clear that most of Jennings’ coworkers who voted agreed.
Do you work at Amazon? Got a tip? Contact this reporter at awilliams@insider. Always use a nonwork email.