How Amazon Stayed Union-Free in Bessemer, Alabama: A Case Study

It's well known that Amazon stayed union-free when employees in Bessemer, Alabama, didn't vote to unionize in early 2021. It was a definitive vote, too, with 738 employees voting for the union and 1,798 workers voting against it. To date, Amazon has no unionized facilities despite repeated labor union efforts. It's a true victory because Amazon employs more than 950,000 people in the U.S. and counting. The pro-union employees and labor unions believe that getting one union victory in an Amazon facility, like a fulfillment center, would open the door to widespread unionization at Amazon.

It's important to note that Amazon has many different operations. The Bessemer facility is a customer fulfillment center, but there are also Amazon facilities like tech hubs, warehouses, and business offices. The union targets employees like warehouse and fulfillment center employees because they are the lowest-paid and fit the characteristics of the type of employees historically recruited by unions.

There are two sets of factors to attribute to why Amazon stayed union-free. Let's dive into them. 

Employees Share Positive Employee Experiences

Amazon treats its employees well. During the union organizing campaign, the union representatives and employees supporting the union offered a skewed view of management and Human Resources policies. They didn't mention a number of positive aspects of working for Amazon. They didn't mention the holistic approach Amazon takes to caring for its employees.

  • Pays good wages that start at a minimum of $15 an hour
  • Offers benefits that start on the first day of employment and go far beyond standard benefits by including benefits like adoption assistance, Amazon health centers, financial planning, resources for parents who have children with developmental disabilities and so much more
  • Offers career opportunities
  • Allows employees to work remotely, when possible given their job responsibilities, like tech workers and customer service representatives 
  • Employees can work flexible schedules to accommodate family needs, i.e., four 10-hour days
  •  Customer-focused element of the organizational culture is what many employees find inspiring
  • Amazon encourages employees to bring their diverse and unique cultural perspectives as a source of innovation for customers, i.e., Hispanic employees celebrated during Hispanic Heritage Month
  • Employee-employer relationships are positive and strong
  • Offers a state-of-the-art work environment

Amazon Stayed Union-Free by Addressing the Issues Employees Were Facing

Is Amazon a perfect employer? Of course not! When the founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, decided to step down, he wrote a letter about the failed Bessemer unionization attempt. In that letter, he addresses some of the issues the union focused on, like high-performance goals and workplace safety.

  • The union claimed workers at the fulfillment center are held to unreasonable performance standards, but Bezos says they are achievable goals that take into account tenure and actual employee performance data.
  • Company is working to reduce employee turnover through employee engagement. Employees are coached when they have problems, and 82 percent lead to positive results.
  • The company is vigorously addressing common workplace repetitive injuries by using algorithmically generated staffing schedules to automatically rotate employees between jobs that rely on different muscle groups.
  • Company is investing $30 million in workplace safety projects.

Amazon is clearly not the employee-abusing company the union tried to portray it as, and a majority of employees voting in the union election agreed.

Amazon stayed union-free

Response to the Union Organizing Campaign was Well-Planned

Coupled with the holistic approach to positive employee relations was a thorough company response to the union organizing campaign. Amazon stayed union-free because the company:

  • Responded to every critic of its workplace conditions, ensuring the truth was told and made public, and union lies were highlighted
  • Responded to claims by union representatives that Amazon was intimidating employees by always stating the facts and correcting the union's false interpretations of the company's actions during the union organizing campaign and voting period
  • Held mandatory employee meetings to discuss the facts about unions, like paying union dues and a third party coming between employees and management
  • Hung anti-union fliers all over the facility
  • Sent daily texts to employees touting the reasons to stay union-free
  • Maintained a dedicated union-focused website that employees could visit at any time for updates and to ask questions
  • Ran anti-union television messages
  • Sent mailers to employees
  • Managers held one-on-one meetings with employees
  • Regularly reminded the public it brought good jobs to low income or low employment areas
  • Ran anti-union TV ads
  • Company's employee communication consistently reinforced the message that employees could achieve change in the company from within
  • Supplied forums for employees opposing unionization and who voluntarily wanted to share their thoughts about working at Amazon or negative experiences with unions

In other words, Amazon stayed union-free because they left nothing to chance. It communicated internally with employees and externally with the public. The company's response to the union organizing campaign was organized and thorough, had consistent messaging, defended employee and employer rights, and deployed all the tools and resources it had available. Amazon leadership clearly understands labor law and TIPS and FOE rules when deploying its union-free strategy.

amazon union vote results

#Amazon stayed union-free because they left nothing to chance - they communicated internally with employees and externally with the public. Their response to the #unionorganizing campaign was organized, proactive, and thorough.

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Amazon Employees Explain Their Votes

Some employees shared their reasons for voting against joining a union. Their reasons can be placed into two buckets. Based on published comments, most voted "no" to unions because they liked their jobs and the benefits and the way Amazon cared for them holistically on their employee engagement journey. The second group voted against joining a union because they had belonged to unions in prior jobs and had bad experiences.

Following are some of the employee voices explaining why they voted no, so that Amazon stayed union-free.

  • William and Lavonette Stokes said the union didn't convince them it could improve working conditions when Amazon already offers good benefits, high pay, and opportunities to advance. William Stokes also mentioned there are issues the company should address, like better training and anti-bias coaching for managers, but believes they can get them addressed without a union. LaVonette Stokes said, "This particular union can't give us anything that Amazon does not already offer. There are a [lot] of people who never have issues."
  • Cori Jennings said she loves her job, Amazon benefits, and her relationship with her manager.
  • Thomas Eady, who has worked in unionized industries before, believes unions value seniority more than work ethic and would not protect employees against termination.
  • Graham Brooks said, "I personally didn't see the need for a union. If I was being treated differently, I may have voted differently."
  • Carla Johnson voted against the union because she received benefits on day one, which she believes saved her life because she was diagnosed with cancer just a few months after employment.
  • Danny Eafford opposed the union because he had a past experience with a union that let him down when he lost his job. He said, "The union's job is not to keep you — it is to keep everybody. If you are looking for the individual help, it will not be there."
  • J.C. Thompson believed Amazon management's commitment to improving the workplace within 100 days.

Proactively Pursue Holistic Employee Relations

Notice that Amazon's holistic approach to positive employee relations is the theme of most of the employee comments concerning their reasons for voting against unionizing. The company offers comprehensive benefits that care for the health of the employee and family. It cares about employee safety, training, relationships with management, career opportunities, scheduling to allow for family needs, and helping employees with special needs. Amazon takes care of the whole employee.

So the bottom line is that the main reason Amazon continues to stay union-free is that management strives to take a holistic approach to positive employee relations, and positive employee relations are a function of leadership training in employee engagement. Leaders do a great job responding to threats of unionization, but employees vote "yes" or "no" based on their employee experience, relationships with management, and trust in management's commitment to addressing major issues.

A no vote is really the sum of how you treat your employees before a union organizing campaign begins.

Employees voting "no" on a union is really the sum of how you treat them, far before a union organizing campaign begins. #proactive #unionorganizing #unionfree 

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Is Your Company Labor Relations Ready?

The emerging union-friendly environment we have frequently discussed in blogs is a signal you need to develop a strategy now to strengthen positive employee relations and a strategy to prepare for union organizing so you can rapidly and thoroughly respond to a union organizing campaign. In the Proactive Era, employers rigorously develop holistic employee relations because the relationship between employees and management will determine your ability to stay union-free. Your employees can become the company's powerful advocates who oppose a union organizing campaign. Employee voices are much louder than management voices.

Your strategy to stay union-free requires a comprehensive approach to developing positive employee relations. There are never any guarantees that, despite all efforts, unions will not target your business. That's why you also need integrated proactive strategies that focus on positive employee relations and labor relations readiness to respond to union activity of any kind.

Follow the Amazon lead, and leave nothing to chance. We have always felt that a proactive, not reactive approach to remain union-free. Don't hesitate to reach out to our experienced consultants at Projections to get started on the development of strategies for union proofing your company through leadership training in positive employee relations and labor relations, and by accessing the resources and tools you need to stay union-free before and during a union organizing campaign.

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

In over 25 years of helping companies connect with their employees, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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