Amazon Employees Vote to Reject Union

Demonstrators wear costumes during a protest at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters on Dec. 16 Photograph by David Ryder/Bloomberg will not, it turns out, be getting its first labor union ever in the U.S.

On Wednesday night, a majority of a group of 27 technicians at an Amazon fulfillment center in Middletown, Del., voted to reject an initiative to form a union under the auspices of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, according to John Carr, a spokesman for the IAMAW. The vote was 21 to 6.

“That number is a clear reflection that the tactics Amazon and their law firm employed were very effective,” Carr said. “Under the intense pressures these workers faced on the shop floor, it was an uphill battle all the way.”

The vote, the first of its kind at an Amazon fulfillment center, was scheduled last month after members of the group filed a petition to organize a union with the National Labor Relations Board. The group, comprised of electricians, machinists, and other engineers, was unhappy about limited opportunities for promotion and a constantly rotating chain of managers, according to an employee involved in the unsuccessful organizing effort, who did not want to be named because he feared retribution from Amazon. Many had transferred from an older Amazon facility in nearby New Castle, Del.

The petition set off a month of furious lobbying inside Amazon. The Seattle-based online retailer hired the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, to aid it in the campaign and called meetings of the technicians to explain the company’s opposition to unions and ask for a second chance to resolve the dispute. Among the messages conveyed, according to the pro-union employee, was that unions in general were harmful to the U.S. The employee said the sessions created stark and vociferous divisions among the technicians.

“With today’s vote against third-party representation, our employees have made it clear that they prefer a direct connection with Amazon,” said Mary Osako, an Amazon spokesperson. “This direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the wants and needs of our employees. Amazon’s culture and business model are based on rapid innovation, flexibility, and open lines of direct communication between managers and associates.”

Amazon has successfully fought unionization efforts in the U.S. for years. In 2000, workers at a customer-service call center in Seattle lobbied to form a union and met with stiff resistance from the company. Amazon ultimately closed the facility during a broader retrenchment during the dot-com bust. In cases over the years where labor organizers passed out union literature outside Amazon facilities and tried to win over workers, Amazon managers have reacted swiftly, meeting with employees and explaining the company’s strong opposition to organized labor.

Amazon is also fighting efforts by the European labor union Ver.di to organize work stoppages and demonstrations at its fulfillment centers in Germany. Workers there are lobbying for higher wages more in line with average compensation in the retail industry. A thousand German Amazon workers recently signed an anti-union petition, expressing concern their jobs would move elsewhere if the union efforts succeeded.

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