Amazon’s Alabama Workers Are Getting a Second Chance to Unionize

Amazon’s Alabama Workers Are Getting a Second Chance to Unionize
Photo: Jay Reeves, AP

Bessemer, Alabama warehouse workers will get a second shot at a union election, the National Labour Relations Board has decided. It found that Amazon shot itself in the foot by interfering with the election, even beyond its considerable leverage to influence workers.

This spring, after Amazon warehouse workers voted 1,798 to 738 against unionizing under the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the RWDSU filed 23 objections alleging that Amazon improperly interfered in the election. In August, an NLRB hearing officer agreed that Amazon had violated labour law, mainly due to the infamous mailbox, ostensibly to facilitate mail-in voting. NLRB Regional Director Lisa Henderson upheld that ruling today.

Given its sizable advantages — vast resources and workers’ non-stop, undivided attention — Amazon’s epic fumble is pretty mind-blowing. The NLRB specifically told Amazon not to install things like “pass-through boxes” that obviously belonged to the employer. And yet, Amazon then delegated the USPS to install a mailbox in the parking lot, in view of security cameras, and placed a suggestive tent around it and hung a banner reading “SPEAK FOR YOURSELF! MAIL YOUR BALLOT HERE.” Emails later revealed that Amazon directed the USPS to modify the box to its liking.

The RWDSU had objected that the tent and box looked an awful lot like an employer-run polling location, giving the impression that Amazon could control the election outcome and track voters’ identities, and that the in-tent messaging qualified as electioneering. The NLRB agreed.

The union also alleged that Amazon threatened to lay off 75 per cent of its workforce and shut down its warehouses if workers unionized. An Amazon spokesperson denied this in an email to Gizmodo in April, and the union withdrew that objection. But that hypothetical threat could help explain the dramatic shift in support from the union’s initial claim that 3,000 workers — more than half of the 5,800 working at Bessemer — initially signed cards in favour of holding an election.

Amazon also brought in pricey union-busting consultants, ran captive audience meetings, and reportedly photographed workers’ badges if they spoke up. Workers received a barrage of texts, emails, and mailers with anti-union messaging. They spent their days in overheated warehouses surrounded by flyers insinuating that they’d lose pay if they unionized and, if they watched Twitch, possibly saw the ads featuring fellow workers. All of that’s legal.

In a statement shared with Gizmodo, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said that “[i]t’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count.” Nantel generally reiterated Amazon’s anti-union position but did not address the NLRB’s specific finding that the company denied workers a fair election.

The election date has yet to be announced. Read the entire ruling, with responses to Amazon’s excuses, here: