Amazon interfered with a formal election by its warehouse workers in Alabama to unionize – and staff ought to be given a second chance to vote again, an official at the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has concluded.
After pro-union employees, represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), working at the BHM1 fulfillment center in Bessemer in the Cotton State lost their unionization election in April, the union swiftly filed objections to the labor relations board.
"A free and fair election was impossible," said [PDF] Kerstin Meyers, an NLRB hearing officer, this week. "Under the circumstances, I recommend that a second election be ordered."
Stuart Appelbaum, the RWDSU’s president, claimed Amazon deliberately engineered an unfair election environment that skewed the vote. For instance, Amazon had the US Postal Service install a mailbox right in front of the warehouse, and the mega-corp messaged its workers to encourage them to mail in their ballots via this box. It is said the mailbox was placed in a tent, branded with Amazon's anti-union messaging and a sign on it saying vote here – in full view of Amazon's surveillance cameras. It was claimed this was a clear example of Amazon sticking its oar far too deep into the voting process.
The labor official agreed. “The employer’s conduct in causing this generic mail receptacle to be installed usurped the NLRB’s exclusive role in administering union elections,” Meyers wrote.
“Notwithstanding the union’s substantial margin of defeat, the employer’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 e-commerce giant also not only showered workers with messages to vote no, as you might expect, it had them attend mandatory 30-minute meetings that were essentially anti-union lectures. At the end of these meetings, anti-union leaflets and pins were left for staff to pick up, with supervisors watching them as they left.
"I find that by distributing these anti-union materials in the presence of managers, the employer committed objectionable conduct," Meyers noted. "The misconduct herein occurred on numerous occasions at untold number of meetings. Virtually all of the bargaining unit employees were subjected to the misconduct, as these were mandatory employee meetings. Under the circumstances, I find that this conduct is objectionable."
It was also claimed Amazon hired off-duty cops to patrol its facilities during the election period, though it was able to demonstrate to the labor watchdog that these officers were needed due to recent on-site security incidents. Similarly, Amazon was accused of persuading the county to alter traffic light signal patterns to interfere with pro-union campaigning on street corners, though it was shown that Amazon had merely asked the county to carry out a traffic flow study of the area before union campaigning began.
In the end, 738 votes were cast for joining the RWDSU, and 1,798 votes were cast against from roughly 5,860 possible voters; 505 ballots were challenged, which wouldn't be enough to change the outcome.
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That said, now that Meyers has recommended a second vote be carried out, a regional director of the labor board will decide over the summer whether to demand another election.
“We support the hearing officer’s recommendation that the NLRB set aside the election results and direct a new election,” Appelbaum said in a statement.
“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.”
Amazon said it intends to appeal to block another election, adding that its workers "voted overwhelmingly in favor of a direct connection with their managers and the company." ®