When Graham Brooks received his ballot paper in early February asking if he wanted to form a union at the Amazon warehouse where he works, in Alabama, he did not hesitate. Checked the box NO and sent the vote.
After nearly six years of working in nearby newspapers, Brooks, 29, earns about $ 1.55 more an hour on Amazon and is optimistic that he will be able to improve.
“I personally saw no need for a union,” he said. “If I were being treated differently, I could have voted differently.”
Brooks is one of nearly 1,800 employees who gave Amazon a devastating victory in the toughest battle the company has ever had to keep unions out of warehouses. The result – announced last week, with 738 workers voting for the union’s formation – dealt a crushing blow to Labor and Democrats, when there seemed to be conditions for them to make progress.
For some warehouse workers, like Brooks, the minimum wage of $ 15 an hour is more than they earned in previous jobs and provides a powerful incentive to join the company. Amazon health insurance, which is valid from the first day of employment, also encourages loyalty, according to workers.
Carla Johnson, 44, said she learned she had brain cancer a few months before she started working last year at the warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. Amazon’s health insurance covered its treatment.
“I was able to enjoy the benefits on the first day, and it could have made the difference between life and death,” Johnson said at a press event that Amazon organized after the vote.
Patricia Rivera, who worked at the Bessemer warehouse from September to January, said many of her colleagues in their 20s and under were against the union because they felt pressured by the firm’s campaign and felt that salaries and benefits were solid.
“For someone younger, it is the most money they have ever won,” said Rivera, who would have voted in favor of the union if he had stayed. “I give them credit. They enroll you and you have insurance right away.”
Rivera left Amazon because she thought she was not paid adequately for the time she had to be quarantined after being exposed to Covid-19 at work, she said.
In a statement after the vote, Amazon said, “We are not perfect, but we are proud of our team and what we offer, and we will continue to work to improve each day.”
Other employees said in interviews that they or their colleagues did not trust the unions or Amazon’s anti-union message that workers could change the company from the inside.
Often, in explaining their position, they repeated the arguments that Amazon exposed in mandatory meetings, in which it highlighted the salary, raised doubts about what a union could guarantee and said that the benefits could be reduced if the workers unionized.
When a union representative called him to speak about the vote, Johnson said, he was unable to answer a question about what the union promised to deliver.
“He hung up,” she said. “If you try to sell me something, you should be able to sell that product.”
Danny Eafford, 59, said he took every opportunity to tell his co-workers at the warehouse that he was totally against the union, saying he would not improve their situation. He said he had talked to colleagues about how a union abandoned him when he lost his job at the post office years ago.
His job, which involves ordering cardboard, tape and other supplies, did not make him eligible to vote. But when the company offered “Vote no” pins, he happily put one in his safety vest.
“The union’s job is not to take care of you; it is to take care of everyone,” he said he had told colleagues. “If you’re looking for individual help, it won’t be there.”
JC Thompson, 43, said he believed in management’s commitment to improving the workplace over the next 100 days, a promise made during the company’s campaign. He had joined other workers against the union, pressing Amazon to better train employees and educate managers in anti-prejudice techniques.
“We will do everything possible to address these problems,” said Thompson. He appeared with Johnson at the Amazon event.
Pastor George Matthews of Interfé Nova Vida Ministries said several members of his congregation were working in the warehouse, just a few miles away, and expressed gratitude for the job. But he was still surprised and disappointed that a larger number did not vote in favor of the union, even in the traditionally anti-union south, as they described how hard the work was.
Speaking to the congregation, Matthews said he came to believe that the workers were too scared to press for more and risk what they had achieved.
With mandatory meetings and constant messages, Amazon used its advantages to make a campaign more successful than the union’s, said Alex Colvin, dean of Cornell University School of Labor and Industrial Relations.
“We know that campaigns change positions,” he said.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the retail workers’ union that led the union initiative, cited several factors to explain the defeat in addition to Amazon’s efforts.
He pointed to the high rate of employee turnover, estimating that up to 25% of Amazon workers who would be eligible to vote in early January had left at the end of the vote in late March – potentially more than the company’s overall margin of victory. .
Appelbaum assumed that people who had left would be more inclined to support the union because they were generally less satisfied with the job.
Brooks said that the previous Friday he saw eight or ten new faces in the area where he works. Many of the workers at the warehouse have complaints from Amazon, wanting fewer hours of work or less strict monitoring of their production.
Brooks and others said they wanted their ten-hour shift to have a break longer than 30 minutes, because in the huge warehouse they spend almost half the break walking to the cafeteria and back.
The turnout was low, about half of the workers able to vote, suggesting that neither Amazon nor the union had overwhelming support.
Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon, said on Thursday in his annual letter to investors that the result at Bessemer did not bring him “satisfaction”.
“It is clear to me that we need a better view of how to create value for employees – a vision for their success,” wrote Bezos.