Amazon workers reject proposal to form first US union

The retail giant will not be seeing its first established union in the United States.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
3 min read
An Amazon fulfillment center. Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Amazon's US employees will continue on without union representation, a group of workers from Delaware decided Wednesday night. The group, which would have been affiliated with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), voted down the proposal to form a union.

IAMAW spokesman John Carr said establishing a union often takes several election cycles, but put the blame on Amazon's anti-union tactics. It was a 21 to 6 vote.

"The workers at Amazon faced intense pressure from managers and anti-union consultants hired to suppress this organizing drive," he said in a statement. "We responded when these workers initially reached out to us, and we'll continue to work with them to pursue the collective bargaining rights they're entitled to under federal labor law."

The employees can begin collecting signature cards for another election, but under National Labor Relations Board rules, they will have to wait another year before voting again.

Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako said in a statement that the result proves the company's employees do not think a union is necessary to get the work benefits they want:

With today's vote against third-party representation, our employees have made it clear that they prefer a direct connection with Amazon. This direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the wants and needs of our employees. Amazon's culture and business model are based on rapid innovation, flexibility and open lines of direct communication between managers and associates. In addition to competitive wages with comprehensive benefits, bonuses, 401(k) with 50 percent match, innovative programs like Career Choice and stock awards, we provide a network of support to ensure our employees succeed. We will continue our strong focus on creating a great work environment that supports all of our employees.

This would have been the first time Amazon had a union for one of its US facilities. The effort for the formation fell squarely on the shoulders of the 26 equipment maintenance and repair technicians from a Amazon's fulfillment center in Middletown, Del., a facility that has a total of 1,500 full-time employees.

Carr said that a union, which would help employees negotiate wages, benefits, and working conditions, is needed to provide oversight. The workers wanted the union to establish a safety committee for the center, he said.

"A mature contract contains more than just wages and benefits," Carr said in his statement. "It gives workers a real voice in their safety and security on the job."

Osako retorted Carr's statement about safety, by saying that it's a "top priority," emphasizing that the company adheres to standards defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency that oversees workplace safety.

"it's safer to work in the Amazon fulfillment network than in a department store," she said in a statement.

Although the union would have only represent the 30 members who were eligible to vote, this move might have encouraged more employees to sign up. It would have been a huge step in the history of a company that has faced criticism about employee working conditions in recent years. In Germany, union members went on last year strike over pay and work conditions. The same workers are already planning for more strikes this year, despite some employees reportedly trying to counter those efforts.

Amazon has tried to battle these allegations by promoting their employee benefits, such as assistance for higher education, even in the pursuit of studies that would lead the employee to leave Amazon.

This is not the first attempt to unite workers at an Amazon facility in the US. Workers at a call center in Seattle tried to form a union in 2000, but Amazon fought back. The company also said then that a union was not necessary and employees should have direct communications with their managers.

Updated, 7:29 p.m. PT : Added Amazon's statements about safety and clarified how many members the union would have represented.