Amazon Union Vote Shows Why PRO Act Is Needed

Rebekah Entralgo says current federal labor law isn’t strong enough to thwart corporate union busting.

Amazon workers in Shakopee, Minnesota, protesting working conditions, Dec. 14, 2018. (Fibonacci Blue, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

By Rebekah Entralgo

Following one of the most high-profile union votes in history, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama — led by Black organizers — ultimately rejected efforts to form a union by 71 percent, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

But for labor advocates, this fight is far from over.

“The Amazon workers who voted for a union in Bessemer are already winners,” Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign said in a statement. “This is just the first round. Amazon did things to intimidate and suppress the vote. The workers are filing complaints, and they will continue to stand up. They have set a fresh trend in the South, and the echoes of their bold action will reverberate for years.”

While the outcome may not have resulted in a union, there is no doubt that the Bessemer union drive is just the beginning of a re-energized national labor movement — a movement driven by the systemic inequality that has allowed Jeff Bezos to become the richest man in the world while his employees are forced to forgo breaks and urinate in bottles in order to meet demands from management.

Inspired by the fight in Bessemer, Amazon workers at other fulfillment centers in Baltimore, New Orleans, Portland, Denver, and southern California have all begun exploring ways to form unions at their own Amazon facilities.

“The American public is now hyper-aware of what Amazon warehouse workers and drivers are forced to go through: Grueling hours with impossible demands,” said Erica Smiley, executive director of Jobs With Justice. “But now that these stories are finally being told, thanks to the organizing of the Black workers in Bessemer, Amazon workers nationwide are finally feeling safe and supported enough to start organizing their own warehouse.”

 (Scott Lewis, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Given the state of organized labor in the United States, every unionization drive is an uphill battle. And while support from the public for unions is generally positive — polling from the AFL-CIO showed that an overwhelming 77 percent support a union for Amazon workers in Bessemer — current federal labor law isn’t strong enough to thwart corporate union busting.

Throughout the entire voting period, Amazon used dubious tactics to mislead and intimidate workers. From attempts to delay the vote multiple times, to creating a “Do It Without Dues” campaign (despite Alabama’s “right to work” rules, which prohibit mandatory union member dues), and restricting mail-in ballots, it’s clear the cards are stacked against the workers.

“Americans want to organize unions,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “And it should never be this hard to do so.”

The Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which helped organize the drive in Bessemer, has announced that it is contesting the results of the election, alleging Amazon interfered with the right of Bessemer employees to vote in a free and fair election — a right protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.

“Working people deserve better than the way Amazon has conducted itself during this campaign,” said RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum in a statement. “This campaign has proven that the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is to join together in a union. However, Amazon’s behavior during the election cannot be ignored and our union will seek remedy to each and every improper action Amazon took. We won’t rest until workers’ voices are heard fairly under the law.”

Going forward, a clear way to ensure fair, democratic union elections is for the U.S. Senate to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. The PRO Act, which passed the U.S. House in March, would add real teeth to existing federal labor laws. Nearly all of the union-busting tactics deployed by Amazon would be banned and enforced under the bill, including:

  • Forcing workers to attend meetings where supervisors promote anti-union messaging without competing views.
  • Disrupting the election process by delaying or stalling the vote.
  • Retaliating against workers for organizing for better conditions.
  • Fining employers up to $100,000 for NLRA violations.

While it will take weeks for the NLRB to review the potential election violations committed by Amazon, the results are a clear indication that if the law had already been in place, this would have been a much more transparent process. Union drives are not stopping. It is up to Congress to ensure that workers in the future are protected from corporate greed.

This article is from

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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7 comments for “Amazon Union Vote Shows Why PRO Act Is Needed

  1. Jared H
    April 20, 2021 at 15:39

    The author failed to mention that the RWDSU made zero demands to improve working conditions or pay. Why would workers join an organization that can’t even tell them for what they will be fighting? Unions are not a magic bullet that suddenly improve working conditions just by virtue of simply existing. If they refuse to fight for workers by even making a single concrete demand, then they are beyond useless.

  2. Vera Gottlieb
    April 19, 2021 at 10:29

    None of these despicable rich have the foggiest idea what it is to sweat to make money. None of them.

  3. April 19, 2021 at 10:23

    Why would anyone cognitively competent and aware as well be surprised that the Washington Post’s big brother acted unethically, even illegally????

  4. TimN
    April 19, 2021 at 08:01

    If its up to Congress to protect workers from Corporate greed, well then expect workers to continue to be exploited. The only way workers can get a union that actually fights for them is to create it themselves. The fact that Biden is throwing down with the Dem Party-aligned Corporate union speaks volumes. Its just another way to marginalize and co-opt working people.

    • bobLich
      April 19, 2021 at 12:15

      Exactly. does a good job of exposing how the unions are a branch of the corporation.

      Detroit strikers denounce two tiers and forced 12-hour days at Keurig, Dr Pepper, Seven-Up

      • S.P. Korolev
        April 20, 2021 at 04:35

        While the WSWS are definitely my favorite Trotskyists, their policy of not engaging in existing unions is a little nuts. It portrays the unions as far more powerful and monolithic than they actually are. With the move of centre-‘left’ parties across the West toward neoliberal identity politics the Unions are largely orphaned. Having failed in several high profile organizing drives (including twice at a Volkswagen factory in Tennessee where the bosses were officially agnostic on the question of a union), unions in tbe US are crying out for the kind of backbone that socialists traditionally provide.

        With 40-something percent of union members voting for Trump in 2016 they also provide a way to reintergrate workers who have returned the favor after the centre-‘left’ turned their back on them. The WSWS policy on unions is too similar to the anarchist policy on political action: politics and politicians are corrupt, therefore we must wait for the Revolution to act as a deus ex machina to sweep all this corruption away and then the workers will sort everything out.

    • James Simpson
      April 20, 2021 at 03:03

      Exactly. Top-down, pr0-Dem, pro-corporate unions are not on the side of workers which is likely to be why the Amazon staff chose to reject this one. Workers have to organise ourselves.

Comments are closed.