ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The ballots are in, and the votes are being processed in the momentous union fight at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama. If a majority of workers vote yes, it would be a huge union victory in the traditionally anti-union South, not to mention the first unionized Amazon workplace in the U.S. Joining us now from Birmingham is reporter Stephan Bisaha of member station WBHM.
STEPHAN BISAHA, BYLINE: Hey.
SHAPIRO: OK, so what are people saying about this vote? What's the mood down there?
BISAHA: So there's lots of excitement. When you drive around Birmingham and Bessemer, where the warehouse is located, you see lots of pro-union signs. There have been high-profile visits from people like actor Danny Glover and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. But there are very few workers in the crowd listening to them. Usually these crowds are filled with out-of-state organizers and red union shirts or locals in blue Alabama Democrat shirts but just the same couple of workers at each event.
Now, it's possible workers are afraid of retaliation. Amazon has been very aggressive with its anti-union campaign - lots of online ads in places like Facebook and Twitch. We've heard of mandatory anti-union meetings for workers, signs plastered across the workplace. So it's just hard for one Sanders visit to compete with the constant, daily anti-union messaging.
SHAPIRO: The stakes are so high, as we've said. When was the last time there was this significant a union vote in the South?
BISAHA: Well, you have to go back to 2017. The Nissan assembly plant that was voting to unionize in Canton, Miss., like Amazon, attracted a lot of big-name celebrities, and pro-union workers told me they felt like they had the world behind them. But that's a big lesson of caution for this Amazon vote. Outside enthusiasm doesn't necessarily mean worker enthusiasm. The Nissan workers at the time voted almost 2 to 1 against the union, and many of the reasons I heard why the vote failed are similar to what's happening with Amazon. You had strong opposition from the employer. And both places pay relatively well - Amazon $15 an hour, more than twice the minimum wage. At Nissan, some workers were making more than $26 an hour, and workers say they really needed those jobs.
SHAPIRO: So there's a real chance that this vote could fail. Is there also a real chance that it could succeed even in a place like Bessemer, Ala.?
BISAHA: Actually, yes. There are lots of union wins that happen in the South every year. If you look at Mississippi and Louisiana, membership has actually been slowly growing for the last decade. The thing is the big wins don't happen at big places like Nissan or Amazon. They tend to happen at smaller workplaces with less than 100 workers. And it's just because these union campaigns have become so expensive. And it's very easy for them to be outspent like a place like Amazon, which might explain why we haven't had a big union win in the South in the last nine years.
SHAPIRO: OK. That's Stephan Bisaha of WBHM in Birmingham, Ala.
BISAHA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.