The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is challenging Amazon Inc., alleging the corporation interfered in a highly-publicized vote by its warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, to form a union. According to the National Labor Relations Board, the election, which needed a 50% in-favor vote to pass, failed by a margin of more than a thousand votes, with 738 workers voting in favor of joining the union and 1,798 voting against. About 500 ballots were challenged, not enough to sway the election.
The RWDSU, which represents workers in the retail, poultry processing, and food chain industries, announced it would seek a hearing with the NLRB on alleged unfair labor practices shortly after preliminary results showed the election swinging in Amazon’s favor, claiming that Amazon “unlawfully interfered” with the elections.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, said in a statement that Amazon required its employees to attend lectures “filled with lies” and disseminated “misinformation” in text messages and pamphlets, including false information about how unions may collect dues in Alabama, a right-to-work state. Some of those pamphlets encouraged employees to “be done by 3/1!” even though workers had until March 29 to submit their ballots.
Applebaum also said that Amazon worked with the Post Office to install a drop box on warehouse property despite the NLRB denying Amazon’s request to do so. “They did this because it provided a clear ability to intimidate workers,” Applebaum said, and called for “a comprehensive investigation.”
In response to questions from the Washington Post, Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox said that the mailbox in question was set up by and could only be accessed by the USPS: She called it “a simple, secure, and completely optional way to make it easy for employees to vote, no more and no less.” Knox also said the RWDSU pushed for a mail-only election in the first place in order to reduce turnout.
Union advocates have already alleged unorthodox anti-union tactics on Amazon’s part. In February, a Jefferson County spokesperson confirmed that the county changed the length of traffic signals near the Bessemer warehouse at Amazon’s request: RWDSU representatives allege they were shortened in order to prevent them from talking to workers at red lights.
There are three outcomes from the NLRB hearing the RWDSU is calling for. The first is that the NLRB finds some evidence of foul play, and orders a second election be held. Another, if the NLRB finds that Amazon egregiously violated labor practice laws, is that it could simply reverse the results of the election and force Amazon to allow a union to be formed. Or it could discard the RWDSU’s complaint and allow the results of the election to stand.
If successful, the vote would have made Bessemer, Alabama, the site of the first unionized Amazon warehouse in the United States. Amazon Inc. is the second-largest private employer in the United States, and has thus far rebuffed efforts by unions to court its employees, in part by touting its $15 an hour minimum wage and health benefits as above industry standard.