As reports surfaced of Amazon’s interference with employees’ attempts to unionize earlier this year in Bessemer, Alabama, Fox News and Fox Business consistently denied any interference had taken place. When the National Labor Relations Board ruled in August that Amazon had acted illegally and made “a free and fair election ... impossible,” the Fox networks only doubled down on their anti-union rhetoric.
Amazon employees had launched the union drive to improve conditions at their facility, saying “outrageous work quotas” had left their co-workers “with illnesses and lifetime injuries,” echoing criticism at other Amazon facilities. Organizers said Amazon initiated a textbook union-busting campaign, replete with a barrage of anti-union messaging and threats of layoffs, loss of health benefits, and even closure of the warehouse. The most serious allegations involved Amazon’s campaign to have employees use a mailbox the company had installed outside the warehouse as a ballot dropbox while monitoring that same area with cameras. These tactics, workers said, were designed to monitor and bully would-be voters.
Fox had plenty of cause to believe the allegations were true -- after all, Amazon has a long history of using any means necessary to fight unionization. In fact, if the workers in Bessemer were to unionize, they would be the first among Amazon employees in the U.S. to do so successfully -- an opportunity they will likely have again when the labor board decides in the coming weeks whether to hold a new election. But when the union effort lost by a wide margin in April, Fox only took the news as an opportunity to revel in the defeat for organized labor and further downplay reports of Amazon’s impropriety, claiming the company “won fair and square” in “an open election.” Some Fox figures also used the outcome of the Bessemer vote to dismiss support for the PRO Act, a pro-labor bill being considered in Congress.
Leading up to the end of the election, Fox networks aired numerous segments contradicting the Bessemer employees’ objections with Amazon and pushing anti-union talking points, while making no mention of the charges of interference -- despite months of mainstream news coverage.
Fox “news” and opinion-side figures defended Amazon’s practices while attacking the unionization effort in Alabama
- On the March 26 edition of Special Report With Bret Baier, a segment on the vote framed the story entirely around a statement Amazon put out against Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) involvement in the union efforts. Anchor Bret Baier introduced the story as Amazon “fighting back against Sen. Bernie Sanders over his criticism of the tech giant” before spending the remainder of the segment reading the company’s statement that downplayed workers’ concerns over pay and benefits.
- Two segments on March 29, one on Making Money with Charles Payne and the other on Your World with Neil Cavuto, downplayed worker complaints against Amazon, citing company talking points about the relatively high pay for its warehouse workers (in opposition to the facts), and interviewed workers opposed to unionization.
- The day the count was announced on April 9, Fox Business host Charles Payne was back on his show calling the loss “a mighty blow to President Biden and progressives.” Payne’s guest, former investment banker Carol Roth, said the vote was less a struggle of “Amazon versus unions” and more about “economic freedom and individual rights versus central planning and force.” Payne followed up by dismissing Amazon’s interference in the election, saying, “I did find it interesting that unions are complaining about a mailbox being placed on the premises when last year, the big complaints from these same folks was that post offices were removing mailboxes.” Roth responded, “It’s just this utter flip-flopping and also just the hilarity of unions saying, ‘Oh, you’re using intimidation tactics. ...' Don’t hate the player, hate the game. If you’re going to be playing this way, this is how it all comes down.”
- Airing immediately after Payne’s show, The Claman Countdown also discussed the vote, bringing on Fox host Larry Kudlow to call the union loss “a victory of freedom over left-wing, ultra-progressive policies that would probably damage business and damage the workforce.” Kudlow and guest host Ashley Webster went on to laud Amazon’s benefits and treatment of workers before denying the accusations against the company, with Kudlow saying, “The unions are trying to make all these various, you know, excuses and stuff. Amazon has every right in the world to provide information for an election, just like anybody running for president would provide information for an election. So I see this as a very positive development.”
- Rounding out the day, Kudlow appeared on his own Fox Business show, Kudlow, where he hosted Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) to celebrate the union loss and further frame it as a win for “worker freedom” and a defeat for progressives. After using the Amazon vote to criticize the PRO Act and punctuate his support for the filibuster, Tuberville tied the union vote to “a power grab from the White House,” which has been “just taking away the rights every day of the people in this country, and it’s no different for the working people.”
- The networks would follow with a spate of anti-union segments on the defeat, notably including an April 12 appearance by Reason magazine’s Nick Gillespie on Kennedy. Host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery claimed that if the workers’ accusations against Amazon were true, the election “would have been close.” Gillespie likewise absolved Amazon of any responsibility, adding, “We should see this as a fair election. It was an open election, and it was a decisive one.”
When the NLRB returned with its decision against Amazon on August 2, saying that “the Employer’s conduct interfered with the laboratory conditions necessary to conduct a fair election” and suggesting that a new election be held, Fox hosts maintained their slanted coverage, attacking both the board and President Joe Biden and refusing to let Amazon receive any blame.
- Host Stuart Varney ran a segment on Varney & Co. on August 3 blaming the administration for the NLRB decision, saying, “The Biden team didn’t like [the Bessemer vote], and they’re trying to reverse the decision.” He went on to criticize the ruling, claiming that “they want the union in regardless of the wishes of the workers or the impact on the company.”
- On August 5, Kudlow once again invited Tuberville on his show to speak on the issue. Kudlow started off by claiming that “the unions, they own the NLRB,” with Tuberville asserting that the workers “lost in a fair election and now they want a recount, they want to vote again. The National Labor Relations Board need to just step back and say, ‘Listen, this is over. They won fair and square.’”
Fox personalities used coverage of the election to push other right-wing talking points
The Fox networks also exploited the Bessemer union vote to inject other right-wing narratives into their coverage, using the story as an excuse to criticize mail-in voting, Black Lives Matter, and assorted policies of the Biden administration.
Fox News first picked up on the Bessemer story in January, when Amazon tried (and failed) to keep its employees from voting by mail. Mail-in voting has been a frequent source of ire for the network, particularly around the 2020 presidential election, and Fox figures capitalized on its role in the union vote as an excuse to attack Democrats.
- On January 24, Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Pete Hegseth spoke on the union election in a segment casting doubt on mail-in voting: “So important, it’s got to be fair, we've got to do it in person during a global pandemic. Wow, how things change in just a short period of time,” Hegseth said.
- The next day, Tucker Carlson mentioned the union vote on his show Tucker Carlson Tonight in a segment framing Amazon as a proxy for the Democratic Party and attacking the For the People Act, specifically its provision to protect voting by mail: “When it is their power at stake, Democrats have a totally different position.”
Organizers in Bessemer emphasized that unionization was also a fight for racial justice (85% of the workers at the Alabama warehouse are Black), an angle that Fox both bemoaned and exploited to criticize larger discussions of racial justice.
- Fox would later lay blame for the failed vote on the organizers -- on April 10, Fox & Friends Weekend guest Stuart Varney said, “It was a huge loss for the union. … They campaigned on social justice, they campaigned on race, most of the workers at that Alabama warehouse are Black, but the union failed.”
- On February 8, After the Bell brought on Fox contributor Dan Henninger, a longstanding anti-union figure, for a segment on the Bessemer election that played up the supposedly already good pay and benefits Amazon offered before host Connell McShane added that union organizers were “actually injecting race into it.” Henninger responded, “It’s been reported a lot of the people pushing a strike down there in Alabama have been participants in Black Lives Matter and the rest of that. I think it’s kind of unfortunate that that issue has been introduced here. ... This isn't 1935, this is 2021. They're well-paid, they have health care, they have a 401(k).”
- On the March 3 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson brought on The Intercept’s Zaid Jilani to discuss how Democrats were supposedly using discussions of race “to distract from their failed policies.” During the discussion, Jilani said, “Your viewers should pay very close attention to what's happening in Alabama right now. There is an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama -- this is a very poor place, about a third of the population is in poverty -- that’s trying to unionize. Jeff Bezos spent the last year telling us how he cares about Black Lives Matter. ... Yet his company is doing everything they can to crush that union. This is a workforce of 85% Black, right, but he's not talking about poor people’s lives’ matter, he's not talking about working class people's lives’ matter. He wants to talk about race because he wants to distract from the fact that there are rich people of every single race out there.”
Given Biden’s support for the workers’ unionization effort, Fox also used the chance to criticize the president’s other policy priorities.
- On Making Money with Charles Payne on February 8, Payne questioned whether Biden would support the Alabama unionization before he skewed comments from the late Richard Trumka to claim the AFL-CIO leader had “blasted Biden's decision to cancel the Keystone pipeline.” Fox contributor Liz Peek suggested that “a lot of union voters are kind of saying, wait a minute, you're for open borders, you're raising the minimum wage, which is probably going to mean a loss of a lot of jobs, and you're still in favor of big trade treaties. What are you doing for me, Joe Biden?”