Union: Amazon's Illegal Actions During Union Vote
RWDSU filed board charges after results in defeated union efforts
On Friday, the most high-profile union election in decades concluded with workers overwhelmingly voting against the union with a vote of 738 in favor and 1,798 against. There were also 76 voided ballots and 738 ballots that were challenged. 5,876 workers were eligible to vote, but only 3,041 sent in the votes.
Immediately after the votes were counted RWDSU, the union organizing the workers at the Bessemer warehouse, released a statement saying that they would be filing charges with the NLRB over the election. These charges will be added to the growing amount of charges that the NLRB is investigating Amazon for.
“Today, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced it is filing Objections to the conduct of the Election and related Unfair Labor Practice charges (ULPs) with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charging that Amazon interfered with the right of its Bessemer, Alabama employees to vote in a free and fair election; a right protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. The RWDSU will request that the NLRB Regional Director schedule a hearing on its objections to determine if the results of the election should be set aside because conduct by the employer created an atmosphere of confusion, coercion, and/or fear of reprisals and thus interfered with the employees' freedom of choice. The RWDSU will also present evidence to the Regional Director supporting the issuance of a ULP complaint against Amazon for unlawfully interfering with the protected right of employees to engage in union activity. Workers fighting for a voice and fair treatment in the workplace will now await the results of these hearings on the objections to determine the final outcome of their union vote. After enduring an intensive anti-union campaign designed by Amazon to intimidate and manipulate, workers are seeking the chance to finally have a right to fair representation, a seat at the table, and a real chance to fix the litany of issues that workers at Amazon have faced for far too long.”
As UCOMM previously reported, workers in Bessemer faced an intense anti-union campaign that included captive audience meetings, daily anti-union text messages, and anti-union flyers being placed in bathroom stalls. A More Perfect Union has also obtained communications between the company and the United States Postal Service where the Post Office reached out to Amazon to inquire about adding a mail dropbox on the company’s property. This allowed Amazon to push workers to drop off their ballot at work, potentially in violation of an NLRB order that the entire election takes place by mail so that Amazon couldn’t pressure workers into voting against the union.
“Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum. “We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception, and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote. Amazon knew full well that unless they did everything they possibly could, even illegal activity, their workers would have continued supporting the union. That’s why they required all their employees to attend lecture after lecture, filled with mistruths and lies, where workers had to listen to the company demand they oppose the union. That’s why they flooded the internet, the airwaves, and social media with ads spreading misinformation. That’s why they brought in dozens of outsiders and union-busters to walk the floor of the warehouse. That’s why they bombarded people with signs throughout the facility and with text messages and calls at home. And that’s why they have been lying about union dues in a right-to-work state. Amazon’s conduct has been despicable. Worst yet, even though the NLRB definitively denied Amazon's request for a dropbox on the warehouse property, Amazon felt it was above the law and worked with the postal service anyway to install one. They did this because it provided a clear ability to intimidate workers. We demand a comprehensive investigation of Amazon's behavior in corrupting this election. Working people deserve better than the way Amazon has conducted itself during this campaign. This campaign has proven that the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is to join together in a union. However, Amazon’s behavior during the election cannot be ignored and our union will seek remedy to each and every improper action Amazon took. We won’t rest until workers' voices are heard fairly under the law. When they are, we believe they will be victorious in this historic and critical fight to unionize the first Amazon warehouse in the United States.”
The union effort drew national attention to the small city in Alabama in a way that has not been seen in a union effort in decades. The election was covered in national and international news sources. Politicians and celebrities even made the journey to Alabama to speak to the workers about the benefits of joining a union, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the fear that one of the largest companies in the world was able to instill in these workers.
“I am disappointed but not surprised by the vote. It is extraordinarily courageous for workers to take on one of the world's wealthiest and most powerful corporations, a company that spent unlimited sums of money to defeat the organizing effort. It also appears that some of Amazon's anti-union efforts may have been in violation of NLRB law. And that is something that the union is addressing with the NLRB right now,” said Senator Bernie Sanders who was in Bessemer Alabama for the last weekend of voting. “The fact that the company was able to force workers to attend closed-door, anti-union meetings is just one reason as to why we need legislation that finally gives workers a fair chance to win organizing elections. Workers should not be intimidated, or badgered by a company because they are exercising their constitutional right to form a union.”
This election in Alabama also shows the importance of getting the PRO Act passed so that workers can even the playing field against big companies like Amazon. These companies will always be able to spend more money than the unions and under current law have much more access to these workers. They can force them to spend paid time in meetings where the company threatens to fire workers who support the union, threaten to close down the warehouse or relocate it to somewhere that is more anti-union, while the union has to wait at stoplights to talk to the workers for thirty seconds. The PRO Act would limit the company’s ability to take some of these actions.
“The goal of a company like Amazon in one of these elections is not to win hearts and minds, not to persuade people, not to have a truthful debate about the pros and cons of workers having a union,” said Congressman Andy Levin, who led a Congressional delegation to Bessemer in March. “They know it would be hard for them to win such a debate. The company’s goal is to create so much pressure, anxiety, and fear—and to make workers feel that the pressure will never go away as long as the union is around—that workers feel they have no choice but to vote NO, like someone crying uncle when they have been threatened relentlessly for days, weeks and months. Without knowing it, they are igniting a movement to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and return workers in Alabama, Michigan, and all corners of this land to their rightful place as drivers of broadly shared prosperity that represents America at its best.”
While many in the union movement are rightfully sad about the outcome, the attention that the Amazon workers in Alabama brought to the struggle that Amazon workers around the country are facing could be the first shot in the battle to organize the company. Unions have reported getting thousands of calls from around the country about wanting to organize their warehouses. The Teamsters have already begun organizing Amazon drivers in Iowa, workers held a walkout at an Illinois warehouse this week, hundreds of thousands of people joined in a consumer boycott of the company, and solidarity rallies were held in over 50 cities across the country. A recent poll conducted by the AFL-CIO even found that 77% of registered voters supported the union effort at Amazon. Simply put, these Amazon workers in Alabama put the company on notice that workers and consumers are not as happy with the company as their ads may portray. The question now is whether after this defeat, will that energy to hold Amazon accountable be sustained through a longer and hopefully more successful union drive?