Amazon Workers In Alabama Likely To Get A Do-Over Vote On Union

An official with the labor board said Amazon tainted the election process by installing a mailbox onsite for ballots.

An official with the National Labor Relations Board has ordered that a union election for Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama be done a second time because the retail giant broke the law on the first go-round.

The NLRB regional director’s decision lays the groundwork for a do-over election after the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union lost by a large margin at the Bessemer warehouse in April. After the vote, the RWDSU filed charges with the board accusing Amazon of tainting the process, in part by having a mailbox for ballots installed on the worksite.

The union’s effort to secure a rerun election has now cleared its second hurdle, with the regional director agreeing with an earlier recommendation from an NLRB hearing examiner that workers cast ballots again because Amazon spoiled the process.

RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement Monday that the order for a new election validates the union’s position that Amazon played dirty during the union campaign.

“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. “Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union.”

The vote to determine whether 6,000 Amazon workers would form a union was the most closely watched U.S. union election in years. The online retailer must bargain with some unions overseas but has managed to remain union-free in the U.S., where it now employs nearly a million people. Many in the labor movement view organizing Amazon as essential to raising the floor in the retail and logistics industries.

“Today’s decision confirms what we were saying all along — that Amazon’s intimidation and interference prevented workers from having a fair say.”

- Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU president

Fearing a successful union drive might spread to other facilities, Amazon unleashed an aggressive anti-union campaign that included outside consultants holding “captive audience” meetings to persuade workers to vote against representation. The company’s campaign was successful, with workers voting 1,798 to 738 against joining the RWDSU. (Hundreds of challenged ballots that may have favored the union were never opened because there weren’t enough to change the outcome of the election.)

But the RWDSU quickly filed charges with the board alleging the election wasn’t fair. One of the union’s key claims revolved around a mailbox.

The NLRB decided against installing ballot drop boxes onsite for the mail-in vote. Nevertheless, Amazon arranged to have a U.S. Postal Service box placed in the warehouse parking lot for the vote. The union said Amazon’s decision to do so created the specter of surveillance and interfered with the board’s administration of the election.

NLRB Region 10 Director Lisa Henderson agreed, saying Amazon showed a “flagrant disregard” for the typical mail-in election process.

“I specifically disapproved of the Employer’s suggestions for making voting ‘easier’ because the Employer is neither responsible for conducting elections nor is it tasked or authorized to aid the process,” Henderson wrote. “Such responsibility and authority rests solely with the Board.”

The Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama.
The Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama.
PATRICK T. FALLON via Getty Images

She said it didn’t matter that Amazon argued its goal was to boost turnout and have more voices heard, since that isn’t the company’s job.

“The Employer essentially highjacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process,” she went on. “This dangerous and improper message to employees destroys trust in the Board’s processes and in the credibility of the election results.”

Amazon said in a statement that it was “disappointed” in Henderson’s decision to redo the election.

“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,” said Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson. “As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes ― quickly. That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle.”

Nantel did not say whether the company planned to ask the five-member board of the NLRB in Washington to review Henderson’s decision. The company has the option to appeal in hopes that the board would issue a stay to prevent the second election from moving forward. But such a development would be less likely now than a year ago, since President Joe Biden has installed a Democratic majority more favorable to workers.

A date has not yet been set for another election.