US labour officials have begun a hearing on whether Amazon was guilty of misconduct in a landmark union vote, with Amazon losing one of the opening moves.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union asked the US’ National Labor Relations Board to set aside the vote because Amazon allegedly interfered by threatening layoffs or closure of the facility if the union won.
In early April employees voted by a margin of more than 2 to 1 not to organise.
On Friday Amazon sought to learn the names of witnesses before they testify, saying it would be a “trial by ambush” if the company did not know who would speak before each session.
Amazon lawyer Harry Johnson said the company wouldn’t need to know “the email address and telephone number”.
But he said the “identity of the witness and what objections they would address” was “actually some fundamental notice that we think should be given”.
Richard Rouco, speaking for the union, opposed the request.
“Protecting and guarding the identity of witnesses, employee witnesses in particular, until the moment that they’re prepared to testify is something that’s very important,” he said.
Hearing officer Kerstin Meyers denied Amazon’s request but said she would accept a briefing on the matter. The hearing is expected to continue at least through this week.
In a 16 April complaint, the RWDSU accused Amazon of misconduct, including issuing anti-union threats, firing an employee for distributing union cards and pressuring staff to cast votes in a mailbox installed on the property in view of surveillance cameras.
The union plans to present witnesses to testify that Amazon consultants or supervisors told employees that if they voted for the union, “Jeff Bezos would not lose any money by taking the Amazon name off the building and shutting the facility down”, according to a 30 April labour board ruling.
NLRB regional director Lisa Henderson wrote in her ruling scheduling the hearing that evidence presented by the union “could be grounds for overturning the election“.
Amazon has denied wrongdoing.
“Despite heavy campaigning from union officials, policymakers and even some media outlets, our employees overwhelmingly rejected the union’s representation,” Amazon said in a statement.
“Rather than accepting that choice, the union seems determined to continue misrepresenting the facts in order to drive its own agenda.”
Industry watchers have said that the vote was expected to be challenged no matter which side won.
A successful appeal by the union would most likely lead to a new election. If it loses, the RWDSU would have to wait at least 12 months before it would be allowed to again demonstrate substantial support for a renewed labour bid.
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