Amazon workers in Alabama will get another chance to unionize

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US regulators have ordered Amazon to submit to a new vote on whether to unionize an Alabama warehouse, ruling that the Seattle-based giant had improperly interfered in a hotly contested election this spring.

A regional director of the National Relations Labor Board, Lisa Henderson, ordered a “new election” — reversing the results of an April vote on whether to unionize the massive warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., that Amazon had won by a margin of 2 to 1 — according to her 20-page decision released on Monday.

In her decision, the Atlanta-based official ruled that Amazon interfered with workers’ rights by calling mandatory meetings at which Amazon disparaged the union drive, and by setting up a mailbox at the warehouse entrance where employees were told to cast their ballots.

“The Employer’s installation, selected location, and encouraged use of the mailbox raised several election-related issues,” according to the decision. Amazon’s “flagrant disregard for the Board’s typical mail-ballot procedure compromised the authority of the Board and made a free and fair election impossible.”

RWDSU officials sitting around a conference table.
RWDSU challenged the April vote in which Amazon workers voted not to be represented by the union.
AFP via Getty Images

The final outcome of the April vote, in which RWDSU officials accused Amazon executives of interfering, alleging 23 violations of labor laws, has been in limbo for months. Earlier this summer an NLRB official said all but one of the 23 allegations had merit and opened the possibility that the vote could be overturned.

At the time Amazon prevailed with 1,798 employees voting against a labor contract to 738 votes in favor. Just 2,536 employees out of 5,867 voted in the election, which took place during the month of March.

Sen. Bernie Sanders standing with a union supporter.
The union campaign had the support of members of Congress, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

RWDSU officials blamed interference by Amazon officials — including surveillance cameras that were set up in front of a mailbox in the employee parking lot where employees cast their votes — for the poor showing. Amazon denied the allegations.

Henderson said the mailbox’s existence amounted to “grounds for setting aside the election.”

“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,” Stuart Applebaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said in a statement. 

Union supporters encouraging people to vote in the election while they drive by the Amazon warehouse.
The vote was one of the most highly anticipated and watched organization efforts at an Amazon facility.
AFP via Getty Images

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said the company disagrees with the NLRB decision.

“Our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they overwhelmingly chose not to join the RWDSU earlier this year,” Amazon spokesperson, Kelly Nantel said in a statement. “It’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count. As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees.”

Shortly after the vote, Amazon’s billionaire founder Jeff Bezos said in a letter to shareholders, “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.”

A view of the Bessemer, Ala warehouse from afar.
The Bessemer, Ala. warehouse.
Getty Images

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