On April 9, Amazon won a major victory in a union organizing campaign involving one of its Alabama facilities. Pundits have talked up this campaign for months and months, many suggesting that it would serve as a bellwether for a dramatic union resurgence across the United States. In fact, the campaign drew attention and fierce commentary from national and local politicians, Hollywood celebrities, media talking heads, and many more. This was to be the great paradigm shift in the union movement.
Um…not so fast. The NLRB announced today that the election vote tally favored Amazon, and the union lost the election. That’s a mild way of putting it. This was an epic union election smackdown by Amazon. Of the roughly 3,000 employees who cast votes, some 1,800 voted against the union. In contrast, only 738 voted in favor of the union. Roughly 500 ballots were not counted because they are subject to legal challenges, but logic and experience suggest that, were those ballots counted, Amazon would have won the election in an even more decisive fashion. (How the union organizers miscalculated their lack of employee support is simply unfathomable.)
So, does this election result demonstrate the further decline of the union movement? No, for several reasons. First, every single organizing campaign is unique, fact- and circumstance-specific, and determined by human and business factors not subject to generalizations. Second, the union’s battle against Amazon is not over. The union plans to file a truckload of unfair labor practice charges against Amazon to challenge the election results. Third, President Biden has described himself as “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen,” which says an awful lot. The president’s agenda includes drastic changes to traditional labor law that stand to dramatically tilt the playing field with respect to organizing campaigns and pretty much everything else that touches traditional labor law. While the Amazon result is jaw-dropping, like all such elections, it is still a one-off.
The union movement will not hang its head in shame over Amazon—if anything, it will use the experience as proof that the country needs a complete overhaul of the National Labor Relations Act. Likewise, the employer community can’t take a victory lap here. The Biden administration and those who control Congress are determined to create a far more union-friendly environment. Employers must remain vigilant and conduct regular employee relations training and campaigns that demonstrate the superiority of the nonunion workplace long before campaigns begin. And, employers need to substantially increase their political engagement to be heard on so-called “reforms” by this administration and this Congress that will otherwise dramatically alter the American workplace to the detriment of employers.