Was the Failed Union Drive in Bessemer a Net Positive for the Labor Movement?

Labor News

Reprinted from The Nation by Alex Han and Adam Ryan on May 19, 2021.

“A consistent theme of the postmortems on the failed union drive at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama,” write Alex Han and Adam Ryan in The Nation, “is that the organizers just weren’t ready to take on the tech behemoth. If the labor movement is going to beat a corporate giant, the argument goes, it needs to be smarter and more strategic. It must provide organizers with new and better skills and more carefully pick and choose the sites of its campaigns. To win a single-site union vote or even a broader one against a regional employer, this may be true. But organizing Amazon is taking aim at the core of the global economy. It’s the kind of campaign in which victory could spark a labor surge that brings millions of people into unions and shifts the balance of workplace power for generations. And these sorts of fights rarely happen at the time and place of our choosing.

“In Bessemer, disgruntled employees reached out to a local union that had recently notched some big wins; it was what we in the labor movement call a ‘hot shop.’ And the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union did what it could to control the terrain and timing of the campaign, but existing labor law makes that nearly impossible. Still, organizers should take on these potentially paradigm-shifting struggles wherever they emerge—even if they lose more often than they win.

“Successful movements grow out of these sorts of failures. We celebrate, for example, the civil rights victories of the Birmingham campaign in 1963 but rarely discuss how the seeds of this success were planted in a failed desegregation campaign two years earlier in Albany, Georgia. …

The Nation 5/19


What Biden’s Union Push Means for CEOs

Reprinted from Chief Executive by Marshall Cooper on May 27, 2021.

When Amazon warehouse employees in Alabama overwhelmingly voted down an April unionization vote, it seemed nothing more than a sign of the times. Unions have almost never had less appeal among private-sector workers than they have now.

In 1945, an estimated 35% of U.S. workers belonged to a union. By 2020, just 6.3% of wage and salary earners in the private sector were members, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Except in a few industries, it’s the rare CEO today who deals with unions.

But that’s about to change if the White House has anything to say about it. President Joe Biden has made it very clear that he intends to aggressively honor his campaign promise to be “the strongest labor president you have ever had.” And then some. …

Chief Executive 5/27

About Jeffrey Burman 861 Articles
Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at [email protected].