Workers at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, will have their voices heard in a second union election in February after the retail giant broke the law during the original vote last year.
The National Labor Relations Board announced Tuesday that it will be sending ballots out to workers on Feb. 4, with the seven-week mail-in election ending on March 28. The election will determine whether roughly 6,000 workers at the facility will be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
The RWDSU gathered enough union cards to trigger an election last year, but workers ultimately voted against unionization in a vote that concluded in April. The union alleged that Amazon violated the law, however, and NLRB officials ultimately found merit in their central charges.
When the board finds that a company may have illegally swayed the vote, it has the power to order a do-over election. Such second votes are difficult for unions to win, however, and workers have typically already been subjected to an anti-union campaign from the employer.
The union said in a statement that it had asked the board to set certain conditions for the second election to prevent any illegal interference from the company, and it was disappointed the board declined to adopt them. According to a spokesperson, the union had sought access to speak with employees on work property to make their case for unionization, something employers are typically not obligated to provide.
“Workers’ voices can and must be heard fairly, unencumbered by Amazon’s limitless power to control what must be a fair and free election, and we will continue to hold them accountable for their actions,” the union said.
Amazon said in a statement that “our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they overwhelmingly chose not to join the RWDSU last year.” The company added, “We look forward to our team in [Bessemer] having their voices heard again.”
As the original election was getting underway, Amazon arranged to have a U.S. Postal Service mailbox installed on warehouse grounds, where it was surrounded by Amazon propaganda, even though board officials had already determined not to have ballot dropboxes at the worksite. NLRB Regional Director Lisa Henderson found that Amazon had hijacked the election and gave workers “a strong impression that it controlled the process.”
“This dangerous and improper message to employees destroys trust in the Board’s processes and the credibility of the election results,” she wrote in her decision ordering a new vote.
In that first election, workers voted 1,798 to 738 against joining the RWDSU, although several hundred additional ballots were challenged and not opened, and those may have favored the union.
Both Amazon and the union asked that the do-over election be conducted in-person, rather than by mail. Amazon wanted it held at the warehouse; the RWDSU wanted it held at the Bessemer Civic Center. But the labor board determined that another mail election would be the safest option due to COVID-19 caseloads.
Amazon deals with unions in some other countries, but it has so far remained union-free in the U.S., where the Seattle-based company employs roughly a million people. Amazon’s growing influence in the retail and logistics sectors has made it all the more pressing for organized labor to find a toehold inside the company’s operations.
The company ran an aggressive campaign against the union last year in the runup to the vote in Bessemer, holding “captive audience” meetings where workers heard anti-union talking points, and hiring “union avoidance” consultants whose job is to dissuade workers from unionizing. Several of those consultants were each paid $3,200 per day for their work, according to disclosure filings with the Labor Department.
This story has been updated with comment from Amazon.