Amazon’s management is facing a potential rerun of its fractious vote over whether to form a trade union at a fulfilment centre in Alabama.
An official at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which oversaw the vote, is now recommending that the vote is rerun over allegations of misconduct by the e-commerce giant.
The recommendation from the NLRB hearing officer, which has yet to be officially released by the NLRB, was conveyed in a press release by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the trade union behind the union drive that Amazon soundly defeated in April.
The union vote was considered a test of whether it might be possible to organise workers at Amazon, the US’ second-largest employer, which has remained union-free in the country to date.
Union officials had hoped that workers might be open to the idea after the pandemic focused worldwide attention on working conditions at Amazon.
Approximately 5,800 workers at the Bessemer (Alabama) warehouse, known as BHM1, were eligible to vote to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) – a move Amazon opposed.
In December staff at the Amazon fullfilment centre were asked whether they should unionise and join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
The organising committee of the vote conducted a social media campaign, shared union authorisation cards and collected enough backing to hold the election.
The matter quickly became political, after the vote was backed by US President Joe Biden, as well as prominent Democrats including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as well as Stacey Abrams.
But in April this year, Amazon roundly defeated the high-profile effort to unionise, after the workers at the Bessemer, Alabama facility voted 1,798 to 738 against the project.
But soon after that vote, the National Labor Relations Board said that evidence submitted by a retail union over Amazon’s alleged conduct at the union election in Alabama “could be grounds for overturning the vote.”
The RWDSU had alleged that Amazon’s agents unlawfully threatened employees with closure of the warehouse if they joined the union and that the company emailed a warning it would lay off 75 percent of the proposed bargaining unit because of the union.
Amazon denied the allegations.
Now according to the RWDSU, workers are the Alabama warehouse are now awaiting a formal decision from the NLRB.
“Today, the hearing officer for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) formally submitted her initial recommendation on the Objections filed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU),” noted the trade union.
“In a final step towards a formal decision, the Hearing Officer who presided over the case has determined that Amazon violated labor law; and is recommending that the Regional Director set aside the results of the election and direct a second election,” said the union.
“Workers endured an intensive anti-union campaign designed by Amazon to intimidate and interfere with their choice on whether or not to form a union,” it added. “Today’s recommendation is based on Amazon’s illegal tactics and shows how the company was willing to use any and all tactics, illegal or otherwise, to stop workers from forming a union.
“Throughout the NLRB hearing, we heard compelling evidence how Amazon tried to illegally interfere with and intimidate workers as they sought to exercise their right to form a union,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
“We support the hearing officer’s recommendation that the NLRB set aside the election results and direct a new election,” said Appelbaum. “As President Biden reminded us earlier this year, the question of whether or not to have a union is supposed to be the workers’ decision and not the employer’s. Amazon’s behavior throughout the election process was despicable. Amazon cheated, they got caught, and they are being held accountable.”
It is no secret Amazon was no fan of the vote in the first place, and it allegedly launched an anti-union website targeted at its warehouse workers in Alabama, emphasising union dues to try to dissuade workers from unionising.
Amazon also reportedly trained managers to spot organising activity.
In September 2020 Amazon landed itself in hot water over two job adverts for “intelligence analysts”, who would be responsible for reporting on activities “including labour organising threats against the company.”
Amazon however said the adverts were badly worded and withdrew the adverts, but credence was added to the suspicion it was hiring people to spy on trade unions as the job listings cited previous experience desired for the role, which said “an officer in the intelligence community, the military, law enforcement, or a related global security role in the private sector.”
To be fair, in October 2020 Amazon said it would respect the rights of workers to join a trade union.
Amazon has also previously experienced trade union disruption in France and Germany.
In February 2019, Amazon cancelled plans to build one of its second headquarters in New York, after the e-commerce giant encountered unexpected local opposition to its plans, partly down to its opposing unionisation.
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