When Graham Brooks obtained his poll in early February, asking whether or not he wished to kind a union at the Amazon warehouse in Alabama the place he works, he didn’t hesitate. He marked the NO field, and mailed the poll in.
After nearly six years of working as a reporter at close by newspapers, Mr. Brooks, 29, makes about $1.55 extra an hour at Amazon, and is optimistic he can transfer up.
“I personally didn’t see the need for a union,” he mentioned. “If I was being treated differently, I may have voted differently.”
Mr. Brooks is considered one of nearly 1,800 staff who handed Amazon a runaway victory in the firm’s hardest-fought battle to maintain unions out of its warehouses. The outcome — introduced final week, with 738 staff voting to kind a union — dealt a crushing blow to labor and Democrats when situations appeared ripe for them to make advances.
For some staff at the warehouse, like Mr. Brooks, the minimal wage of $15 an hour is greater than they made in earlier jobs and supplied a highly effective incentive to facet with the firm. Amazon’s medical health insurance, which kicks in on the first day of employment, additionally inspired loyalty, staff mentioned.
Carla Johnson, 44, mentioned she had realized she had mind most cancers simply a few months after beginning work final yr at the warehouse, which is in Bessemer, Ala. Amazon’s well being care lined her therapy.
“I was able to come in Day 1 with benefits, and that could have possibly made the difference in life or death,” Ms. Johnson mentioned at a press occasion that Amazon organized after the vote.
Patricia Rivera, who labored at the Bessemer warehouse from September till January, mentioned lots of her co-workers of their 20s or youthful had opposed the union as a result of they felt pressured by Amazon’s anti-union marketing campaign and felt that the wages and advantages have been stable.
“For a younger person, it’s the most money they ever made,” mentioned Ms. Rivera, 62, who would have voted in favor of the union had she stayed. “I give them credit. They start you out and you get insurance right away.”
Ms. Rivera left Amazon as a result of she felt she wasn’t adequately compensated for time she needed to take off whereas quarantining after publicity to Covid-19 at work, she mentioned.
Amazon, in a assertion after the election, mentioned, “We’re not perfect, but we’re proud of our team and what we offer, and will keep working to get better every day.”
Other staff mentioned in interviews that they or their co-workers didn’t belief unions or had confidence in Amazon’s anti-union message that the staff may change the firm from inside. Often, in explaining their place, they echoed the arguments that Amazon had made in necessary conferences, the place it burdened its pay, raised doubts about what a union may assure and mentioned advantages might be diminished if staff unionized.
When a union consultant referred to as her about the vote, Ms. Johnson mentioned, he couldn’t reply a pointed query about what the union may promise to ship.
“He hung up on me,” she mentioned. “If you try to sell me something, I need you to be able to sell that product.”
Danny Eafford, 59, mentioned he had taken each alternative to inform co-workers at the warehouse that he strongly opposed the union, arguing that it wouldn’t enhance their scenario. He mentioned he had advised colleagues about how a union let him down when he misplaced a job years in the past at the Postal Service.
His job, which entails ordering cardboard, tape and different provides, didn’t make him eligible to solid a poll. But when the firm provided “VOTE NO” pins, he gladly put one on his security vest.
“The union’s job is not to keep you — it is to keep everybody,” he mentioned he had advised colleagues. “If you are looking for the individual help, it will not be there.”
J.C. Thompson, 43, mentioned he believed a dedication by administration to enhance the office over the subsequent 100 days, a promise made throughout the firm’s marketing campaign. He had joined different anti-union staff in pushing Amazon to higher prepare staff and to teach managers on anti-bias methods.
“We’re going to do everything that we can to address those issues,” Mr. Thompson mentioned. He appeared with Ms. Johnson at the Amazon occasion.
Pastor George Matthews of New Life Interfaith Ministries mentioned quite a few members of his congregation labored at the warehouse, simply a few miles away, and had expressed gratitude for the job. But he was nonetheless shocked and disillusioned that extra didn’t vote to unionize, even in the historically anti-union South, given how laborious they described the work.
In speaking with congregants, Mr. Matthews mentioned, he has come to consider that staff have been too scared to push for extra and threat what they’ve.
“You don’t want to turn over the proverbial apple cart because those apples are sweet — larger than the apples I had before — so you don’t mess with it,” he mentioned.
With its necessary conferences and fixed messaging, Amazon used its benefits to run a extra profitable marketing campaign than the union, mentioned Alex Colvin, dean of Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
“We know campaigns change positions,” he mentioned.
Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the retail staff union that led the organizing effort, cited a number of elements to elucidate the loss past Amazon’s anti-union efforts.
He pointed to the excessive charge of turnover amongst staff, estimating that as much as 25 p.c of Amazon staff who would have been eligible to vote in early January had left by the finish of voting in late March — doubtlessly greater than the firm’s total margin of victory. Mr. Appelbaum surmised that individuals who had left would have been extra prone to assist the union as a result of they have been sometimes much less happy with their jobs.
Mr. Brooks mentioned that on the earlier Friday, he noticed eight or 10 new faces in the space the place he labored.
“I was told they were Day 3 employees,” he mentioned, “and I noticed a few more today.”
Many of the staff at the warehouse have complaints about Amazon, wanting shorter hours or much less obtrusive monitoring of their manufacturing. Mr. Brooks and others mentioned they wished their 10-hour shift had a break interval longer than 30 minutes as a result of in the huge warehouse, they’ll spend nearly half their break simply strolling to and from the lunchroom.
Turnout for the vote was low, at solely about half of all eligible staff, suggesting that neither Amazon nor the union had overwhelming assist.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief government, mentioned Thursday in his annual letter to investors that the outcome in Bessemer did not bring him “comfort.”
“It’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success,” he wrote.
Michael Corkery contributed reporting.