Labor Unions

Stop the Steal? Organized Labor Can't Accept Loss in Amazon Unionization Election.

The pro-union left agrees with the MAGA right: If you can't beat 'em, claim they cheated.


It was a high-stakes election with big political implications for the country, one that came at the end of a bruising campaign that attracted a lot of media attention. When all the votes were counted, there was a clear winner. But the losing side refused to concede, alleging that their defeat was the result of unfair or even illegal conduct by the winner—and calling for government officials to review and perhaps even overturn the results.

I'm describing, of course, last week's union certification election at an Amazon distribution center in Alabama.

Workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse voted by a margin greater than two-to-one against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). It was a sound rejection of the weeks-long campaign to establish the first-ever unionized workforce at an Amazon facility.

Even before all the votes had been counted, the head of the union was calling the election unfair.

Once the votes were counted, the size of the RWDSU's defeat became apparent—the union lost by more than 1,000 votes in an election in which 3,215 votes were cast. This wasn't a narrow defeat that left the will of the voters somewhat inconclusive. It was a thorough rout.

Unless you were on the losing side, of course.

"We won't let Amazon's lies, deception, and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote," RWDSU chief Stuart Applebaum said in a statement shortly after the vote was finalized. The union plans to appeal to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

While the (union) president raged and threatened lawsuits, his supporters in the media lobbed accusations of voter fraud and other conspiracy theories.

"How do more than 2,000 workers sign union cards at Amazon's Alabama plant but only 700 vote yes? And why did only half of workers vote when 3/4 normally vote in such elections? Try examining employer intimidation," tweeted Juan Gonzalez, co-host of the progressive radio show Democracy Now.

Given the similarities between the union's reaction to the Amazon election and President Donald Trump's reaction to his defeat in November, it is ironic that the union's chief argument to the NLRB has to do with ballot drop-boxes. Recode reports that Amazon asked the U.S. Postal Service to install a mailbox at the Bessemer warehouse to make it easier for workers to mail in their ballots during the unionization drive. The union claims that making it easier for workers to vote is a form of intimidation because some workers believed the company was tracking who voted—a conspiracy theory on par with some of what Sidney Powell was spreading after Trump's loss.

The idea that making it easier for people to participate in a democratic election is somehow unfair is an argument you might expect to hear from the MAGA right, not the pro-union left. But this is where we are. If you can't beat 'em, claim they cheated.

Trump, needless to say, didn't invent this trend. For four years, we had to tolerate the ongoing drumbeat about how Trump was a illegitimate president who had been elected by the Russians or the inherent racism of the Electoral College or whatever other excuses Democrats came up with rather than deal with the fact that Hillary Clinton was the worst major-party presidential nominee in recent American history.

Something dangerous is afoot here. Elections are a way to peacefully resolve disagreements. When the go-to explanation for an election loss is to accuse the other side of cheating their way to victory, the legitimacy of the democratic process breaks down. That's especially true when the president of the United States is refusing to accept the results, but it's also true in other circumstances.

Amazon won the unionization election in Alabama last week. Overwhelmingly. The losers should admit as much, and move on to the next fight.