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Workers At Amazon Warehouse In Alabama Reject Bid To Unionize

NOEL KING, HOST:

Amazon workers who favor a union got together for a rally in Birmingham, Ala., last night. They were hoping to celebrate, but they ended up commiserating because workers at a nearby warehouse in Bessemer voted 2-to-1 not to form a union. Amazon, I should say, is one of NPR's financial supporters. Stephan Bisaha is a reporter at member station WBHM in Birmingham, and he was at the rally yesterday. Good morning, Stephan.

STEPHAN BISAHA, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So what was the mood? What did people tell you?

BISAHA: So organizers and workers said they were pretty shocked and disappointed by Friday's result. But by Sunday's rally, they were sounding defiant and saying they were ready for another fight. Speakers got up on the truck bed of this big red Dodge and fired up the crowd. Organizer Michael Foster said he was hurt by the Amazon vote result but wasn't giving up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL FOSTER: We all should be looking to get into some good trouble, OK?

(CHEERING)

FOSTER: It is our God-given right to stand up against being mistreated.

BISAHA: One of the people I spoke to in the crowd was a pro-union Amazon warehouse worker who traveled here from Pennsylvania. He said many workers back at his warehouse felt demoralized by the vote, but he was ready for round two.

KING: But did he say what round two would look like? Did anyone?

BISAHA: Well, they're not really sure. There is this legal fight that's coming up. The union's accusing Amazon of some dirty tricks, including intimidating workers. And they say they'll file charges with the National Labor Relations Board. The thing is, the National Labor Relations Board is considered pretty toothless on these matters. Any legal challenge won't be decided for months. And even if the union wins, it likely won't lead to any repercussions more serious than Amazon hanging up a few flyers in their warehouse.

KING: OK, so there's not a lot of hope for overturning the result in Bessemer. What do you think this says about union organizing more broadly in a place like Bessemer and Alabama in general?

BISAHA: Yeah, well, the thing is, it's not impossible for unions to win, even in the South. It happens every year. But the ones that do win tend to be at smaller workplaces with less than 100 workers. What this recent vote helped show was how hard it is for a union to win against a big corporation like Amazon, with all its resources. So U.S. Congressman Andy Levin from Michigan spoke at Sunday's rally. He says Washington needs to pass legislation to even the playing field between big corporations and unions.

ANDY LEVIN: This was a huge education for the American people and the people of the world at how, in America, workers don't actually have the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively. Companies can just crush them.

BISAHA: So the House recently passed a bill that would make it easier for unions to actually get into workplaces, and now that's in the hands of the Senate.

KING: And I know that last night you talked to some people who said, OK, look; the fight over the Amazon warehouse, we may have lost it, but we changed in some ways, yeah?

BISAHA: Yeah, yeah. There are some personal wins that came along with this union vote. So I spoke with one of the co-founders of the local Black Lives Matter chapter here. They got very involved with organizing many of the pro-union rallies here. And he told me that got him much more involved with labor organizing, really made this connection between Black Lives Matter and the labor movement. And he's now even taking calls from places like Georgia, where poultry workers are looking to Birmingham for help with their own fight to unionize.

KING: Stephan Bisaha with WBHM in Birmingham. Thanks, Stephan.

BISAHA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.