Amazon pressured Alabama workers and union vote should be redone, labor investigator recommends

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An Amazon fulfillment center. (GeekWire File Photo)

Amazon stepped outside allowable guidelines and improperly pressured Alabama warehouse workers against unionizing the Bessemer fulfillment warehouse in April, and because of that, the election should be redone, a National Labor Relations Board hearing officer recommended in a report Monday.

The effort by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to organize the nearly 6,000 warehouse workers last spring failed to win enough votes to establish the union but organizers claimed throughout the process that Amazon managers were violating labor laws with anti-union tactics, such as ballot boxes with camera surveillance. 

The recommendation isn’t binding, however. Now the NLRB report will move to the labor board’s regional office in Atlanta for a final ruling. 

Stuart Applebaum, president of the RWDSU, said the report and recommendation validate what union organizers have asserted all along: Amazon interfered with its own workers’ rights to form a union.

“Throughout the NLRB hearing, we heard compelling evidence how Amazon tried to illegally interfere with and intimidate workers as they sought to exercise their right to form a union,” Applebaum said in a statement. “We support the hearing officer’s recommendation that the NLRB set aside the election results and direct a new election.”

An Amazon spokesperson noted that a large majority of the employees didn’t want a union in Bessemer and that should carry the day. 

“Our employees had a chance to be heard during a noisy time when all types of voices were weighing into the national debate, and at the end of the day, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of a direct connection with their managers and the company,” a company spokesperson said.

“Their voice should be heard above all else, and we plan to appeal to ensure that happens.”

An NLRB spokesperson said the board would not be commenting on the report.

The election at the warehouse ended in April with a 2-1 defeat for the union out of nearly 3,000 votes cast. But in the run-up to the election and during it, the effort to organize Amazon — and the company management’s apparent antipathy toward unions — garnered national attention.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and voting-rights advocate Stacey Abrams showed up in the town of 26,000. And President Joe Biden directly referenced workers’ rights to organize. 

“As President Biden reminded us earlier this year, the question of whether or not to have a union is supposed to be the workers’ decision and not the employer’s,” Applebaum noted in a statement. “Amazon’s behavior throughout the election process was despicable. Amazon cheated, they got caught, and they are being held accountable.”

In an April letter to Amazon shareholders following the union election, former CEO and company founder Jeff Bezos acknowledged the public-image damage the union election campaign created. 

“Does your Chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer? No, he doesn’t. I think we need to do a better job for our employees,” Bezos wrote on April 15. 

“While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success,” Bezos added.

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