Here’s Why and What It Means

Workers at an Alabama Amazon warehouse swiped left on unions. In voting to remain union-free, they sent a clear signal that they are not interested in what unions claim to offer.

This vote carries major implications beyond this warehouse. This crushing blow will make efforts to unionize at other Amazon warehouses and across the retail industry even more difficult.

The vote

With 80 percent of ballots counted, 71 percent of workers voted ‘no’ to unionizing the 5,800-worker Bessemer, AL, warehouse. That means three out of four of these workers chose to keep organized labor out of the relationship they have with their employer.

The workers likely considered factors such as the pay at Amazon, which is double the state’s minimum wage, benefits such as healthcare, and the availability of jobs, especially during the pandemic. 

In addition, union dues leave workers with less of their own money and no guarantees of better outcomes. In many cases, unions support causes and candidates that workers may oppose.

Cori Jennings, a 40-year-old worker who voted against unionizing, explained: 

A lot of us are in agreement that we don’t need anybody there to speak for us and take our money.

Another worker, 52-year-old Lavonette Stokes, explained her opposition to unionizing:

Amazon is the only job I know where they pay your health insurance from Day 1.

In addition, she explained why this was not about Black Lives Matter, racism, or anything else that organizers tried to claim.

Employers like Amazon are not perfect, but they are moving our economy in a direction that benefits workers. These workers were simply not convinced that unions could deliver anything better than they were already receiving.

The implications

Private sector unions have watched their membership and prominence diminish significantly over decades. The union membership rate fell to a historic low of 10.8 percent in 2020. Some 50 years ago, nearly a third of U.S. workers belonged to unions, but today, it’s just one in ten. 

Meanwhile, the number of workers leaving traditional, unionizable jobs has risen. Today, as many as 57 million people freelance and or partake in the gig economy. These workers cannot be unionized.

Threatened by the shifting labor market, organized labor and activist groups peddle the narrative that because union representation is low, worker exploitation is high. Yet, they show no evidence. 

Organized labor has found willing advocates in Washington though. President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress have launched aggressive efforts to reinvigorate unions. For example, the House-passed, union-boosting PRO Act is included in President Biden’s infrastructure and jobs bill along with a host of labor-friendly provisions. 

The vote to unionize Amazon would have provided ammunition and a roadmap for national organizing efforts. Now, organized labor has another expensive failure on their hands.

American workers increasingly enjoy more opportunities, more pay, greater benefits, and more flexibility thanks to our evolving economy and innovation. They don’t need unions to negotiate what they are able to secure for themselves. 

As labor unions go back to the drawing table, lawmakers should pay attention to the message that workers are sending. Unions are a special interest that many workers simply do not want.