US labour board calls for new union election at Amazon warehouse in Alabama

·3 min read

The regional office of the US labour board has ordered a new election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, where workers waged a high-profile campaign to organise the first union in the retail giant’s history.

Following a failed bid to unionise roughly 6,000 workers at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama earlier this year, union organisers and workers vowed to challenge the results, alleging an aggressive and illegal anti-union campaign that had drawn international scrutiny.

Workers testified to Congress about working conditions, union campaigners gained support from progressive lawmakers and President Joe Biden, as well as Senator Bernie Sanders, held rallies with workers as voting was underway.

Their efforts were met with an anti-union effort that included text messages, one-on-one meetings and mandatory meetings on the warehouse floor and a social media PR blitz, among other tactics reported by workers and organisers.

Warehouse management also coordinated with the US Postal Service and Amazon headquarters to stage a ballot dropbox in front of the warehouse under a tent provided by the company, which union organisers allege was used to intimidate workers.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union argued that Amazon interfered with employers’ rights to vote in the union election, and created an “atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals and thus interfered with the employees’ freedom of choice”.

In August, a labour board hearing officer suggested that results from that election be tossed out and that a new election take place.

A decision from the National Labor Relations Board’s regional director on 29 November determined that Amazon showed a “flagrant disregard” for the mail-in ballot election, arguing that Amazon “essentially highjacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process.”

“This dangerous and improper message to employees destroys trust in the [labour board’s] processes and in the credibility of the election results,” regional director Lisa Henderson wrote in a filing on Monday.

Union president Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement that the decision on Monday “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,” which union leaders and the labour board’s regional director have called “unacceptable and illegal”.

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement that “it’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count.”

Following the election, the labour board tallied 1,798 votes against unionising the warehouse and 738 votes in support. Seventy-six ballots were voided, and 505 ballots were challenged. The number of those remaining ballots not included in the count were not sufficient to affect the outcome, the board said.

The 3,117 ballots among the 5,876 voting-eligible workers marked a 53 per cent turnout for the election.

A push to organise Amazon workers signalled a wave of labour organising with some of the world’s largest brands – including Frito Lay, John Deere, Kelloggs, Nabisco and Starbucks – calling for better conditions and wages, or pushing for union representation.

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