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Labor board orders a new Amazon union election in Alabama

Two men holding signs in support of unionizing at Amazon.
The effort to organize Amazon workers this year was among the most high-profile labor movements against a corporate giant in recent years.
(Jenny Jarvie / Los Angeles Times)

The National Labor Relations Board ordered a new union election at an Amazon facility in Alabama after reviewing allegations that the e-commerce giant had engaged in illegal conduct during the high-profile campaign, which the union lost.

NLRB spokesperson Kayla Blado said Monday that a regional director of the labor board ordered a new election. Representatives of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the failed unionization drive in Bessemer in April, said the date and method of the new election are yet to be determined.

The ruling for a redo of the election comes after a big boost, and then a big fail, in the spring for Amazon workers and activists supporting the effort to organize against one of the nation’s most powerful employers.

The drive represented the furthest Amazon workers anywhere in the U.S. had gone in the process of formalizing a union, and it was energized by unusually strong attention and support across the country, fueled partly by the extra scrutiny the pandemic put on risks faced by warehouse and other workers.

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Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the company discourages unions and is disappointed with the NLRB decision.

“Our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they overwhelmingly chose not to join the RWDSU earlier this year. It’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count,” Nantel said in a statement. “As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees.”

The statement said Amazon is focused on “continuous improvement” of worker pay and safety that is hard to do quickly when unions are involved.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the union, applauded the decision. “Today’s decision confirms what we were saying all along — that Amazon’s intimidation and interference prevented workers from having a fair say in whether they wanted a union in their workplace — and as the regional director has indicated, that is both unacceptable and illegal,” Appelbaum said in a statement.

An overwhelming number voted against unionizing in the election that began in February. Of 5,867 eligible voters in the union election, 738 votes were cast for and 1,798 votes were cast against the union; 505 ballots were challenged but wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the election.

Amazon workers in Bessemer, Ala., vote against unionizing. It is the closest Amazon workers anywhere in the U.S. have come to a union.

Shortly after the vote tally in April, RWDSU challenged the outcome, alleging the results were influenced by illegal intimidation and unfair practices by Amazon during the campaign.

The union’s argument centers on Amazon’s push for a mailbox to be installed at the Bessemer facility, which RWDSU said created the false appearance that Amazon was conducting the election, and potentially pressured workers to vote against the union. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the union had obtained emails among U.S. Postal Service employees this year that appeared to show Amazon pressuring the agency to install the mailbox outside the warehouse.

After months of hearings, the hearing officer presiding over the NLRB case determined in August that Amazon violated labor law, writing that the company installed a “generic unlabeled mail collection box less than 50 feet from the main entrance to its facility ... immediately beneath the visible surveillance cameras.”

In that initial assessment, the officer recommended that the results of the election be set aside because of the installation of the mailbox and because the company engaged in “objectionable polling” of employees’ support of the union. That included directing workers to pick up “Vote No” paraphernalia in plain view of managers and anti-union consultants, according to the assessment, which the officer said could be reasonably perceived as Amazon attempting to discern which way a worker planned to vote.

Amazon’s “unilateral decision to create, for all intents and purposes, an onsite collection box for NLRB ballots destroyed the laboratory conditions and justifies a second election,” the officer wrote.

In the Monday ruling, Lisa Henderson, the NLRB Region 10 director, affirmed the August recommendations. Henderson wrote that the mailbox did not bear Postal Service insignia or any other signage associating it with the Postal Service. Amazon had erected a tent above the mailbox with a large banner reading, “Speak for yourself! Mail your ballot here,” a slogan that served prominently in Amazon’s anti-union campaign.

Graphics below the banner showed “several ethnically diverse hands” grasping a yellow ballot envelope, according to the Monday ruling. Amazon had sent messages to employees informing them that the Postal Service had installed a secure mailbox outside the main entrance, “making mailing your ballot easy, safe and convenient.”

The order for a new election stands unless Amazon files a request for the NLRB to review its decision and the board chooses to reverse its decision, in which case the second election would be canceled.

If the board conducts a review and grants Amazon’s request after a new election has been conducted, those results would be nullified and the results of the first election would stand. If the NLRB is still reviewing Amazon’s request after a second election is conducted, the ballots would be impounded until the board makes a decision.


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