“Workers cannot organize to scale in America absent labor law reform, full stop,” Representative Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat who had visited Bessemer, said in an interview.
The Amazon warehouse, on the outskirts of Birmingham, opened a year ago, just as the pandemic took hold. It was part of a major expansion at the company that accelerated during the pandemic. Last year, Amazon grew by more than 400,000 employees in the United States, where it now has almost a million workers. Warehouse workers typically assemble and box up orders of items for customers.
The unionization effort came together quickly, especially for one aimed at such a large target. A small group of workers at the building in Bessemer approached the local branch of the retail workers’ union last summer. They were frustrated with how Amazon constantly monitored every second of their workday through technology, and they felt that their managers were not willing to listen to their complaints.
Organizers appeared to have strong support early on, getting at least 2,000 workers to sign cards saying they wanted an election, enough for the National Labor Relations Board, which conducts union elections, to approve a vote.
Some labor experts said the erosion of that early support showed the power that employers have in campaigning against unions by holding mandatory meetings and talking to employees during work hours about the downside of organizing. Others said the union’s failure reflected problems with its organizing tactics, which included gaining the support of national politicians and celebrities.
The election was conducted by mail, a concession to the pandemic. Instead of holding an election over just a few days, workers had more than a month to complete and mail in their ballots, which were due on March 29.