Nancy Solomon: I'm Nancy Solomon in for Tanzina Vega and this is the takeaway. The union drive at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama is over, at least for now. According to the ballot count workers at the facility voted overwhelmingly not to form a union. It's a disappointing result for labor organizers, but definitely not the end of the road. Lauren Kaori Gurley is a senior staff writer at Motherboard, VICE's tech site. She's been covering the story from the start and she joins me now. Lauren, welcome back to The Takeaway.
Lauren Kaori Gurley: Hey Nancy, thank you so much for having me again.
Nancy Solomon: This vote wasn't even close. There was so much attention on Bessemer, both nationally and internationally. Were you surprised the union lost by such a big margin?
Lauren Kaori Gurley: Yes and no. I think that just talking to labor organizers before the vote count happened, there were a lot of red flags in terms of the organizing strategies that the union was using. For example, because of COVID, they weren't doing door knocking. They weren't getting big public declarations of support from workers in the form of people signing things or staging big actions. Part of that was because they were afraid of retaliation they said.
When I was down there I talked to a lot of workers who said, most people on my shift or whatever, either aren't voting or are very scared of the union and think that if the union comes in, we will lose our jobs. At the same time, obviously, there was a huge amount of hope placed on the union drive winning. There was a ton of positive media coverage. There was endorsements from celebrities, politicians. We got even a historic statement from President Biden that we hadn't seen anything like that from her president since FDR, basically.
There was a huge camp of workers who were very pro-union. I think this was always an uphill battle and I think some people were caught off guard when they lost because of all the positive media coverage. There was never a level playing field between Amazon and the union in terms of just sheer financial resources and access to workers. I think this outcome was expected.
Nancy Solomon: You mentioned that workers were afraid that they would lose their jobs if the plant unionized. Did you hear other reasons why folks didn't vote for the union?
Lauren Kaori Gurley: Yes. A lot of people were afraid, like I said. The other camp maybe was people who said that they were more than satisfied with what Amazon offered and a region in Alabama in the South where a lot of good-paying jobs have left, where a lot of the options are fast food, retail, minimum-wage work. Amazon is offering $15 an hour, which is twice the federal minimum wage and twice Alabama's minimum wage. They offer benefits like health care, dental, vision, insurance, retirement plans.
I think a lot of people were swayed by this anti-union campaign that Amazon held that was basically like if the union comes in, you could lose all of that. "Aren't you happy with what you already have? Do you really want to be paying dues to this union?" Where they showed them some contracts at some poultry farms that the union had negotiated where the pay was much lower and that wasn't really a fair comparison at all because warehouse work pays much more, but I think a lot of workers were really persuaded by Amazon's anti-union messaging.
Amazon poured tons of resources into this. There were daily text messages, the entire warehouse was plastered with post-anti-union posters and bathroom stalls entrances. There were sending out care packages and mailers. It was really, really powerful stuff.
Nancy Solomon: Organized labor pinned so much hope on this campaign. The fact that it was a place in the South I think made it even more of a place to take a stand. Will this loss reverberate beyond the Amazon facility?
Lauren Kaori Gurley: I think it's definitely discouraging to show to people who are organizing right now. I think even the fact that they made it to the point of a union election, which has never happened at an Amazon warehouse in the history of the United States since the company was founded in the 90s, was a landmark in itself. You're already seeing people organizing in response to this. The labor movement is obviously recalibrating its strategies after this huge loss.
I think they've had thousands of workers-- This union that organized the Amazon workers in Alabama has had thousands of Amazon workers reach out to them since the election started about, "How do I unionize?" I think really, it is a loss and people are being discouraged, but I think that the bigger thing here is that actually that people are inspired and are organizing in Iowa, in Southern California, in New York City, in Chicago. I think we should expect to see more of that.
Nancy Solomon: What kind of recalibration are you talking about exactly. In terms of-- How is it going to change the strategy?
Lauren Kaori Gurley: One of the things that the labor movement is talking about is, maybe we shouldn't be pouring tons of resources into union campaigns at individual warehouses. I think they're thinking about maybe a more sector-wide strategy where they will be holding direct actions like walkouts, big publicity campaigns to shine a light on Amazon's working conditions. More petitions, more strikes, more work stoppages that get Amazon to sit down at the bargaining table, maybe without a union. That is one of the thoughts. I know that other places are still interested in holding union campaigns so that could continue as well.
Nancy Solomon: We're almost out of time, but what happens next with this specific fight with the retail wholesale and department store union, how are they going to fight the results?
Lauren Kaori Gurley: They're in the process of filing objections and charges related to Amazon's conduct during the election, which they had a USPS mailbox installed right feed outs from the entrance of the warehouse. They were texting workers and telling the workers to vote from it. It was supposed to be a mail-in election not onsite. They're definitely going to launch a case against that. They're also going to request a hearing to determine if the election results should be cast aside entirely. That could mean that they have to do a revote.
Nancy Solomon: Okay. Thanks so much, Lauren Kaori Gurley is a senior staff writer at Motherboard, VICE's tech site. Thanks so much, Lauren.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.