Union Alleges Amazon Misconduct In Election Re-Run In Alabama

US trade union defeated last year in workforce vote, alleges Amazon misconduct once again, amid vote rerun at Alabama fulfilment centre

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) said it has filed unfair labour practice charges (ULPs) against Amazon, amid a second vote on unionisation.

The US retail trade union accused Amazon of misconduct and unlawfully interfering with a union election at an Alabama warehouse. It filed the charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) once again.

Specifically, the RWDSU alleges Amazon removed pro-union posters and literature from staff breakrooms; limited workers’ access to the warehouse before and after shifts; and forced staff to attend anti-union meetings.

Image credit: Amazon
Image credit: Amazon

Misconduct allegations

“Today, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) will be filing Unfair Labor Practice charges (ULPs) against Amazon claiming that it has engaged in misconduct during the re-run union election in Bessemer, Alabama,” it announced.

“This is the second set of ULP charges by the Union, showing a continuance of the company’s conduct aimed at interfering with the right of employees to organise,” it alleged. “This rerun election is the result of the company’s objectionable conduct under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) during the first election, conduct which the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) concluded interfered with employees’ rights to a free and fair election.”

“Removing union literature from break rooms, limiting workers’ ability to talk with each other, compelling attendance at captive audience meetings to listen to anti-union messages – all of these actions expose Amazon’s undisguised efforts to stifle workers’ voices and its contempt for their rights to join together,” said Wilma Liebman, former Member and Chairman, NLRB. “What’s Amazon afraid of?”

Amazon however has rejected the RWDSU allegations, and in statement to Reuters, provided by spokesperson Kelly Nantel, said it was confident it had fully complied with the law.

“Our focus remains on working directly with our team to make Amazon a great place to work,” the company reportedly said.

Amazon is also facing union votes at its facilities in New York (which will take place late March) and in Canada.

The e-commerce giant is the second-largest employer in the United States, and has remained union-free in the country to date.

The NLRB reportedly sent unionisation ballots to workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, plant earlier this month and will tally the votes at the end of March.

First round

This will be the second time that the RWDSU has sought a vote at the BHM1 fulfilment centre in Bessemer, Alabama.

Last April approximately 5,800 workers at BHM1 overwhelmingly voted against joining the RWDSU.

The election at the time became a political issue, 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.

Despite the RWDSU defeat, the NLRB threw out the results after it ruled that Amazon unlawfully influenced the vote by encouraging workers to place ballots in a mailbox on company property.

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 those allegations at the time.

Now with the charges filed on Tuesday, the RWDSU is laying the groundwork to challenge the results of the Alabama election if it loses a second time.

Union opposition

It is no secret Amazon is no fan of trade union votes, and it is alleged that previously it launched an anti-union website, emphasising union fees 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.