Possible Ramifications of Amazon Union Vote
Topics: Union-Management Relations
This past month’s Amazon union election in Alabama received more national attention than any other union election since the Boeing election in South Carolina in February 2017. The press covered it very closely. Politicians offered their views on it. Even President Biden commented on it.
Notwithstanding the publicity, the efforts of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) failed miserably. Despite a massive campaign by the RWDSU, only 12.5% of the eligible workers actually voted to unionize. Slightly more than half of the 5,800 employees in the proposed bargaining unit cast their ballots. 1,798 rejected unionization and only 738 employees voted in favor of RWDSU representation.
RWDSU is alleging multiple objections to the election results and asserting that Amazon interfered with the vote in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. However, it will be very difficult for the RWDSU to overturn this election and overcome this defeat without concrete evidence of serious misconduct on Amazon’s part. So far, no such evidence has been identified and a successful challenge to the election appears unlikely.
The bigger question is what does this highly publicized election result, and landslide victory for Amazon, mean for the political landscape. The union movement is pitching the loss as a David v. Goliath situation. The unions argue that current labor laws are stacked in favor of large powerful corporations, like Amazon, and should be modified. The unions charge that it is almost impossible to organize large powerful corporations like Amazon and Walmart and that more of the money being sent to shareholders as profits should land in the workers’ hands.
Employer groups assert that there is simply no need for a union at employers like Amazon, who have heard the plea to equalize income and have stepped up by paying their employees at least fifteen dollars an hour and provide outstanding benefit packages with good opportunities to advance into supervisor and management positions.
From this author’s point of view, I expect that the Amazon election results likely to lead to the following:
- Increased pressure on Democratic Senators by the union movement to vote for the PRO Act and help pave the path to unionization (although as long as the filibuster remains in place, the PRO Act has very little chance of passing in the Senate).
- Increased pressure by the union movement on the NLRB and NLRB General Counsel to issue decisions and policy memoranda that assist unions’ organization efforts. This will become more likely once the NLRB gains a democratic majority later this year.
- Unions may focus less on accomplishing their mission through organizing and instead will sink more resources into public campaigns (i.e., Fight for 15, Justice for Janitors, etc.) where they can feel they can more effectively move their agendas forward through public pressure and publicity than through traditional organizing.
- Unions will continue to push their politics at the state level in blue states that largely support the union efforts. For example, in California, several years ago the union lobby pushed through legislation requiring that all cannabis industry employers of twenty or more sign a Labor Peace Agreement with a union requiring employer neutrality in any union campaign. Evidence of a Labor Peace agreement is a statutory prerequisite to obtaining a license to operate in the cannabis industry. Look for the promotion of similar industry-focused legislation in pro-union states to help jump-start the union movement.
- The return of micro-units. Look for the Biden NLRB to overturn the 2017 Trump NLRB decision in PCC Structurals 2017 sometime in 2022, and return to the Specialty Healthcare standard from 2011 Under Specialty Healthcare, unions were allowed to organize small micro-units of employees and the case limited the challenges available to employers to petition for a larger number of employees to be included in the bargaining unit. This made union organizing easier.
Although the presence of a 50-50 split in the United States Senate and the filibuster makes federal pro-union legislation highly unlikely, President Biden is a big and vocal union supporter and the union movement is creative enough that it will find other ways to continue to reverse previous trends and put more power within the unions’ hands. We will continue to report on these developments. If you have any questions regarding union organizing as it relates to your business, please contact your CDF lawyer or reach out to the author of this blog post, Mark S. Spring, Chair of CDF’s Traditional Labor Law Practice Group at firstname.lastname@example.org.