The workers just didn’t believe they were exploited. From Mark Solomon at freightwaves.com:
News Analysis: Amazon wins big by playing to well-paid workers’ logic
There is no love lost between Jeff Bezos and Fred Smith, given the unpleasant break- up of their companies’ shipping marriage in 2019. Yet in decisively thwarting efforts to organize 5,800 workers at Amazon.com Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Bessemer, Alabama warehouse, Bezos took a page right from the FedEx Corp. (NYSE:FDX) founder’s anti-union playbook.
Other than about 5,000 unionized pilots that came over after FedEx acquired the old Flying Tiger Line cargo airline in 1988, and a smattering of workers at its FedEx Freight LTL unit, FedEx has remained non-union for its 50-year history. Smith and Co. have beaten back multiple organizing efforts by persuading FedEx workers that wages, benefits, working conditions and an open-door relationship makes third-party bargaining units irrelevant.
Amazon followed a similar strategy in Bessemer, where the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union (RWDSU) made the most serious effort to organize Amazon’s workers in its 27-year history.
Amazon, which opened the warehouse in March 2020, paid the workers more than $15 an hour to start, almost twice the minimum wage. It offered good health insurance, a 401K plan, and opportunities for advancement.
With Bessemer being its first warehouse in Alabama, Amazon sought to show, or at least convey the impression, that it considered the workers more than just disposable assets. That’s an issue that has plagued the warehouse labor relations for decades until surging demand for e-commerce fulfillment flipped the script.
Amazon’s goal was to appeal to the workers’ collective common sense. The implied message was: What would union dues give you that the status quo couldn’t? Amazon hammered home the message every chance it got. It seemed to resonate with a workforce that sees the free-market pendulum swinging in its favor as demand for warehouse workers, and the prevailing wage to keep and attract them, continues to rise.
In the end, the company won big. Of the 2,536 workers who voted, 1,738 cast ballots against unionizing. The wide margin was surprising in light of the union’s aggressive campaign and pro-labor momentum that had built up in recent weeks. The pro-union sentiment included support from President Joe Biden, a near-unprecedented act from a sitting president.
“I knew the union was going to lose, but I didn’t think it would lose that badly,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. That a union election of such historical significance would draw less than half the eligible voters spoke volumes about the rank-and-file’s apparent lack of energy to be organized, Bronfenbenner said. The seeming ennui, Bronfenbrenner said, “is on the union.”