Labor

After allegations of union-busting, Amazon employees will redo a union vote in Alabama

An NLRB decision nixed the previous vote to unionize, which was rejected by a 2–1 margin.
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· 3 min read

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If at first you don’t succeed (in forming a union) just try, try again. That old, motivational adage will be put to the test in Bessemer, Alabama, as workers at an Amazon warehouse facility prepare to conduct their second vote to unionize, following allegations that the company possibly influenced the previous election.

In April, hundreds of workers at the warehouse voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), but lost the bid by a 2–1 margin. Last week, however, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board effectively scrapped the previous result after a challenge submitted by the union, allowing workers to hold another vote.

The decision to vote again ramps up scrutiny of the e-commerce giant, which last month faced strikes by union-backed warehouse and delivery workers in Europe as part of an international Black Friday protest.

Primed to organize. An NLRB hearing officer originally recommended discarding the union vote in August, after an investigation brought on by the RWDSU’s allegation that Amazon engaged in unfair labor practices during the organizing and voting process. The union complained that the company led an anti-union campaign preceding the vote that included text messages sent to workers, notices deriding unions posted in bathrooms, and “captive audience” sessions, in which Amazon officials would attempt to sway worker sentiment against organizing, CNBC reported earlier this year. Amazon has disputed the union’s accusations.

More than 3,000 votes were cast in the election, with less than 30% voting in favor of unionization, The New York Times reported. Less than half of the warehouse’s 6,000 workers voted.

Amazon previously said it would appeal any decision to conduct another vote, and a company spokesperson, Kelly Nantel, said in a statement to HR Brew 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 earlier this year. It’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count.”

The original union drive captured national attention and drew endorsements from major politicians, including Senator Bernie Sanders. Some workers at the Bessemer warehouse have complained of gruelling hours and sky-high productivity quotas, with one worker telling The Guardian in February, “You get treated like a number. You don’t get treated like a person. They work you like a robot.”

What now? No date has been set for the impending do-over, but as one might expect, the RWDSU is celebrating 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,” RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement. —SB

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Contact Sam Blum via the encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram (@SamBlum_Brew) or simply email [email protected].

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.