Amazon workers in USA win second vote for union

Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union organisers campaign for a Yes vote outside Amazon's warehouse in Bessemer

AMAZON warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, USA are getting a second vote on unionising, after a National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) official ruled in favour of a revote after finding that the e-commerce giant improperly interfered in the first election.

It is a major victory for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which challenged the outcome of the first vote at the warehouse last spring, with the company claiming that the workers rejected unionisation by more than 2-to-1.
Amazon is now the United States’ second-largest private employer, employing nearly one million workers in its warehouses.
In making her decision, the NLRB’s Atlanta region director, Lisa Y Henderson, condemned Amazon’s ‘flagrant disregard’ for procedures to make union elections free and fair.
She expressed particular displeasure with the company’s efforts to place an unmarked US Postal Service mailbox in front of the warehouse just after voting started, writing that Amazon ‘essentially highjacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process.’
The RWDSU, which is working to unionise the staff in Bessemer and objected to the election results on April 19, applauded 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,’ union president Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement.
‘Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union.’
The new election promises to bring the same sort of high-profile campaign to Bessemer that came to the Birmingham suburb earlier this year.
During the nearly two-month mail-in balloting that ended in March, the union drew support from leaders at the giant trade union confederation AFL-CIO as well as politicians including Senator Bernie Sanders.
Amazon remains staunchly opposed to unionisation at its warehouses.
Even though many of the company’s European warehouses are organised, Amazon has faced only one other union vote in the United States.
The revote decision comes nearly four months after a NLRB hearing officer, Kerstin Meyers, recommended it.
Meyers, whose filing guided the final ruling, also criticised Amazon’s efforts to get the Postal Service to install a mailbox in front of the warehouse because it could have given workers the impression that the company had a role in collecting and counting ballots.
In her decision last Monday, Henderson wrote that the question was whether the mailbox altered the agency’s election procedures ‘to give the appearance of irregular and improper’ involvement by Amazon.
‘The answer is a resounding yes,’ Henderson wrote.
She also blasted Amazon’s rationale that the mailbox made voting more convenient for workers, noting that there were ‘more than 49 postal branches with secure receptacles within 20 miles of the distribution centre, in addition to the residential mailboxes available to most employees.’
Henderson had set the previous election rules and disapproved of Amazon’s request to make voting ‘easier,’ she wrote, adding that the company ‘ignored the spirit of my directive by unilaterally requisitioning the installation of a postal mailbox.’
Meyers also found that Amazon’s pressuring of employees to display anti-union paraphernalia the company itself handed out was also improper because it ‘could reasonably cause an employee to perceive that the Employer was trying to discern their support for, or against, the Union.’
And Henderson concurred in her ruling, writing that Amazon ‘improperly’ polled employees when it presented small groups of employees with the open and observable choice to pick up or not pick up ‘Vote No’ paraphernalia in front of managers.
Henderson ruled that Amazon will need to post a notice at the Bessemer facility that reads, in part, that the previous election was set aside ‘because the National Labour Relations Board found the Employer interfered with the employees’ exercise of a free and reasoned choice by creating the appearance of irregularity in the election procedure due to issues surrounding the installation of a mailbox outside the main entrance and by improperly polling employees’ support during mandatory meetings.’
The decision also said that Amazon and the union will need to file written positions about their ‘preferred date, time, and method for the second election.’
Eligible voters will need to have worked at the warehouse during the payroll period immediately before the date of the notice for the new election, or did not work because they were ill, on vacation or temporarily laid off.
Amazon has until December 13 to ask the full NLRB to review Henderson’s decision. Even if the company seeks that review, the election could move forward while the board considers Amazon’s arguments.
Meanwhile last Tuesday, New York’s Attorney General Letitia James filed a motion for an injunction against Amazon, which, if passed, would order the company to re-hire a worker it fired at the start of the pandemic.
Chris Smalls worked at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island until March 2020, when he organised a protest of Covid-19 safety conditions inside the facility.
Smalls was fired on the same day as the protest.
Amazon claimed at the time he was sacked because he had broken social distancing rules.
James issued a statement at the time which said she thought Smalls’ firing was ‘disgraceful,’ and filed a lawsuit against Amazon in February 2021 over its Covid-19 safety measures.
James’ investigation demonstrated that Amazon ‘unlawfully fired and disciplined workers who reported their concerns about the company’s compliance’ with certain health and safety mandates, including Christian Smalls, the attorney general said in a press release last Tuesday.
James’ motion seeks to force Amazon to offer Smalls an interim reinstatement.
Smalls filed a class-action lawsuit against Amazon in November 2020 which alleged the company illegally discriminated against workers of colour and immigrants by failing to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and implement Covid-19 safety measures.
Smalls is currently heavily involved in an organisation called the Amazon Labor Union, which is trying to unionise JFK8.
He submitted a petition to the NLRB for a union election in October, but withdrew the petition in November after failing to meet the threshold for union authorisation cards.
James’ injunction also seeks to force Amazon to implement more safety procedures inside JFK8, saying the investigation ‘uncovered evidence showing that Amazon’s health and safety response violated state law by not providing reasonable and adequate protection to employees.’
Specifically, James wants the court to appoint a monitor to oversee the implementation of three major changes.
First, James says Amazon needs to ease up on the way it closely monitors worker productivity, as this means workers don’t take the time to observe safety procedures such as hand-washing and social distancing.
Cleaning and disinfection inside the warehouse was also inadequate.
Finally, James said Amazon’s Covid-19 contact tracing protocols were deficient and failed to properly notify close contacts.
It echoes a complaint lodged by California Attorney General Rob Bonta who said Amazon ‘failed to adequately notify warehouse workers and local health agencies of Covid-19 case numbers, often leaving them in the dark and unable to effectively track the spread of the virus.’
Amazon reached a $500,000 settlement with the California attorney general.

  • The US tech sector is the next frontier for labour organising, and its workers are starting to understand the collective power unions have, President of the AFL-CIO Liz Shuler said last Friday. The labour federation – which comprises 56 affiliated unions and 12.5 million workers – wants to enable more organising in the tech industry.

‘What we are seeing in the tech sector is workers rising up. You look at companies like YouTube, Google, Apple, their workers have been speaking out. They have been staging walkouts on issues like racial justice and sexual harassment,’ Shuler said, adding:
‘You don’t have the collective power that you have when you have a union, and I think tech workers are starting to connect the dots.’
Tech is among the least unionised major industries in the country despite some recent organising success.
In recent years unions, including the Communications Workers of America, have launched campaigns in Silicon Valley and organised workers at startups such as Kickstarter and Glitch.
The CWA also formed the Alphabet (GOOGL.O) Workers Union, a so-called minority union that does not have collective bargaining rights.
‘We have the public on our side for the first time in a long time,’ she said, citing a recent Gallup poll that showed 68 per cent of people in the country support unions.