Amazon Union Vote Was About the Need for Labor Law Reform

Recently, the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (or RWDSU) worked to organize workers in Bessemer Alabama at an Amazon facility.

The workers voted against union representation, but many of the anti-union tactics that workers faced during the organizing drive would have been outlawed under the Protect the Right to Organize Act (or PRO Act).


Currently the National Labor Relations Act lacks an enforcement mechanism such as the PRO ACT. As a result the law allows employers free reign to hold employee required captive audience meetings where an employer can communicate their opinions on a variety of matters such as labor organizing; drag out collective bargaining agreements in the case of a union representation vote where a union has won the right to represent employees; escape civil penalties for violating labor laws; and force arbitration agreements amongst other examples (See EPI chart).

This year, Congress has an opportunity to level the playing field for the average American worker in the private sector. The PRO ACT would help workers join a union if they want to by removing some of the current obstacles that prevent them from exercising this right. Additionally, penalties would be established for employers that violate workers’ rights to advocate for themselves for basic workplace safety, higher wages and other workplace issues that many of us might take for granted.

The Amazon union vote was the latest example of the continued exploitation of workers in this country using our outdated labor laws. As described earlier, employers are given wide discretion to erect barriers that exploit basic human rights and paths to broader prosperity. But in the south, these barriers are often accompanied by the vestiges of racism and poverty that have historically and disproportionately impacted Black, Brown and poor communities.

Moreover, in Bessemer, Alabama remnants of the civil rights struggles that were so visible during the 1960s and still exist today further limit paths to broad communal prosperity. From the images of “white only” lunch counters that Black teen activists were so violently assaulted for sitting at to the 1981 lynching of a young Black man in Mobile Alabama, the barriers for predominately Black communities in Alabama are undeniable and very difficult to erase from everyday reality.

But make no mistake, until pro-worker policy interventions such as the PRO Act and other labor law reform measures are mandated on a Federal level, many of our most vulnerable communities will lack the power to create a prosperous path for their lives.

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