Employers can learn a lot from the Amazon union drive in Alabama

Earlier this month the results of a widely publicized unionization vote at a 6,000-person Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama were announced, with workers decisively voting against forming a union. Despite the loss, many experts believe that unionization in America is poised for a resurgence. The Biden administration has been openly sympathetic to unions and to potentially passing rules making unionization easier and more likely.

Employers should look to the attempted unionization of the Bessemer, Alabama Amazon warehouse as a cautionary tale. The most pressing issue for these warehouse workers was not money. (The average pay at the Amazon facility in Bessemer was double the federal minimum wage and considered excellent starting pay for the region.) Rather, employees main concerns revolved around the physical demands of the work and the relentlessness of the schedule, as an app tracked their “time on task.” Employees at the fulfillment center complained of being penalized for taking bathroom breaks, being forced to work long hours, and generally being treated as replaceable parts in a machine. The employees who sought to form a union and supported unionization tried to bring these concerns to the attention of management, but felt their concerns weren’t heard or understood and ultimately felt disrespected by the company.

In particular, Employees complained of lack of interaction with supervisors, and said they would only know who their supervisor was by checking an app – it might be someone they had never met. They felt they had no one to go to with questions or concerns. They also complained about standards used for disciplinary actions and terminations including those regarding “time on task” that were never clearly explained to employees. Employers everywhere should keep in mind that while competitive pay is undoubtedly important, clear and fair policies and good communication with their workers will also produce significant bottom line benefits, including a reduced threat of unionization. Union avoidance training can help provide managers with the skills they need to build effective partnerships with their workers. If you have interest in providing union prevention training to your managers and supervisors, contact Nicole Gardner.