A small group of workers at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Middletown voted Wednesday against becoming the online retail giant's first labor union in the United States.
Of the 30 equipment maintenance and repair technicians who were eligible to cast ballots the vote, 21 voted against forming a collective bargaining unit represented by the Maryland-based International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW).
Six voted in favor of the measure, while three workers chose not to vote.
"With today's vote against third-party representation, our employees have made it clear that they prefer a direct connection with Amazon," Mary Osako, a spokeswoman for the Seattle-based company said via email Wednesday night. "This direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the wants and needs of our employees … We will continue our strong focus on creating a great work environment that supports all of our employees."
IAMAW spokesman John Carr said Wednesday's vote reflected a near total reversal of the number of workers who had expressed an interest in being represented on Dec. 6, when the labor union filed an election petition with the National Labor Relations Board on their behalf.
"In the weeks leading up to the vote, the workers had to attend meetings as soon as they came into work and before they left in which they were presented with information from one side," he said. "After a while that creates a lot of pressure from the inside and it can be overwhelming. It was an uphill battle to begin with and tonight it fell short. But these workers called us, and as long as they're willing to go forward, we will be willing to aid them in that endeavor."
By law, however, the union must wait at least one year before filing another petition to organize the 30 technicians.
Wednesday's vote is believed to have been the first time workers at any of Amazon's 40 locations in the United States have cast ballots on forming a collective bargaining unit authorized to negotiate contracts that would cover their wages, benefits and work rules.
Carr said the Amazon workers in Middletown sought a contract in the hopes of establishing clearly defined guidelines for seniority, promotion and vacation, as well as the establishment of an effective safety committee.
High turnover among management at the 15-month-old Middletown facility helped create a sense of uncertainty that led workers to reach out the IAMAW, he said.
"To my knowledge, these guys have never once raised an issue with their wages, outside of wanting to know the procedures for reaching the next pay level," he said last month. "Instead, they want to know that the rules today will be the rules tomorrow and that one employee will get the same treatment as another."
Page 2 of 2 - If ratified by the 30 Middletown workers, Wednesday's vote would not have affected the vast majority of the 1,600 packers and shippers who also work at the Middletown facility, or the roughly 100,000 Amazon employees worldwide.
But it would have given the 700,000-member IAMAW a toe-hold at Amazon that officials with the labor union had hoped to exploit.
Even as the technicians at the Middletown facility were casting ballots today, organizers with the IAMAW distributed leaflets outside the facility, encouraging other workers to follow their lead.
"Your maintenance co-workers made an important decision in an effort to better their working lives through a union contract," the leaflets stated. "You can too! When workers form a union, they provide themselves with the opportunity to secure a voice in their workplace and ensure justice on the job. The IAMAW can help you do the same."
Amazon opened the $90 million fulfillment center in Middletown less than 15 months ago, after receiving nearly $7.5 million in incentives from the state in the form of grants and infrastructure improvements.
The Town of Middletown also provided a 10-year property tax abatement to the 1.2-million-square-foot distribution center.
The fulfillment center was initially expected to create more than 850 full-time jobs, but company officials announced in October that they had doubled that estimate.