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Amazon Questions Cannabis Handouts at JFK8 Union Election

Amazon is challenging the momentous unionization victory at its Staten Island, N.Y. warehouse, arguing in a legal filing with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Friday that union organizers harassed employees who did not support the union in an effort to sway the vote, and that the NLRB itself delayed investigating what it called “unmeritorious” labor practice charges while also understaffing the election.

Alongside the criticisms, the tech titan called for an electoral do-over at the so-called JFK8 facility.

The e-commerce giant listed 25 objections in the filing obtained by The Associated Press, accusing the recently assembled Amazon Labor Union (ALU) of strong-arming workers into voting for the union, particularly by telling them that they would lose their benefits if they did not support the push.

Warehouse workers at the Staten Island facility voted in favor of a union, casting 2,654 “yes” votes against 2,131 “no” votes on April 1.

“The employees have spoken,” Eric Milner, an attorney for the ALU, said in a statement Thursday after the filing went public. “Amazon is choosing to ignore that, and instead engage in stalling tactics to avoid the inevitable—coming to the bargaining table and negotiating for a contract” on behalf of the workers, he said.

Amazon took issue with how both the NLRB and ALU handled the electoral process.

“We’ve always said that we want our employees to have their voices heard, and in this case, that didn’t happen—fewer than a third of the employees at the site voted for the union, and overall turnout was unusually low,” spokesperson said. “Based on the evidence we’ve seen so far, as set out in our objections, we believe that the actions of the NLRB and the ALU improperly suppressed and influenced the vote, and we think the election should be conducted again so that a fair and broadly representative vote can be had.”

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The NLRB confirmed to Sourcing Journal that it received the objections. On Thursday, the board granted Amazon’s extension request and gave the company until April 22 to file evidence for the objections.

“The NLRB is an independent federal agency that Congress has charged with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act,” said Kayla Blado, acting director and press secretary, National Labor Relations Board. “All NLRB enforcement actions against Amazon have been consistent with that Congressional mandate.”

The Amazon Labor Union did not respond to a request for comment.

Amazon’s objections include an allegation that the NLRB improperly polled workers, and supposedly helped the union reach a required threshold of signatures from employees to file for the vote. The agency did this by removing more than 1,500 employees from the list of eligible workers, Amazon claimed.

The company alleged that the NLRB told employees to cover up their shirts that said “Vote No,” but let voters wear Amazon Labor Union clothes.

Amazon also said that the NLRB should have better controlled members of the media near the polls, because workers could have been discouraged from voting. The Everything Store also called out ALU members for handing out cannabis to workers, saying the NLRB “cannot condone such a practice as a legitimate method of obtaining support for a labor organization.” New York state legalized recreational marijuana use last year for people 21 and older, however.

Milner pointed out that distributing cannabis “is no different than distributing free T-shirts” and the handouts “certainly did not act to interfere with the election.”

The growing union battles, which also include two highly publicized unionization attempts by warehouse workers in Bessemer, Ala., have given Amazon more incentive to seek assistance from third parties. In a filing released last week, the company reported spending nearly $4.2 million last year on labor consultants.

Although the Alabama warehouse’s second unionization vote once again struck down attempts to organize, the saga lingers on. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the labor organizer that has represented the Bessemer warehouse workers throughout the unionization effort, filed objections to Amazon’s conduct for the second time, once again saying that the e-commerce giant interfered with the right of these facility employees to vote in a “free and fair election.”

The RWDSU made similar claims after the first election held in April last year, with the chief objection pertaining to a mailbox the USPS installed in the warehouse parking lot at the behest of Amazon, which gave off the appearance that Amazon was involved in the collection of votes (and the election itself) instead of the NLRB. In November, The NLRB sided with the union on the allegations and forced a do-over.

The unionization pushes could be game changers in that more workers could band together and follow suit, potentially altering the structure of issues like pay, benefits and overall working conditions. For Amazon, it also ultimately could add another significant expense. According to a recent Morgan Stanley analyst report, every 1 percent of Amazon’s frontline workforce that unionizes would lead to an incremental $150 million of annual operating expenses.

For years, Amazon has often been under the spotlight when it comes to its treatment of employees, whether it is allegedly not allowing workers to take lunch breaks, firing whistleblowers such as now ALU-leader Christian Smalls and even mishandling reported instances of racial discrimination and sexual assault.

Executive chairman Jeff Bezos has since tried to clean up the company’s image by establishing a new chief commitment: to make Amazon “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.” Despite whatever improvements may have occurred, such as pandemic pay increases, the Seattle firm still has a long way to go to satisfy many of its detractors.

After Amazon released a report saying that workers at the company’s delivery depots, sort centers and air freight hubs averaged 7.6 injuries for every 200,000 working hours—which was better than the 9.1 industry average—the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC) disputed the totals.

In particular, the organization said that it misleadingly compares its injury rates to the BLS injury rates for the entire warehouse and storage industry, even though Amazon itself makes up one-third of employment in the industry.

Earlier this month, Amazon again came under fire for reportedly mulling an automatic word monitor that would block out certain terms and phrases on a planned internal messaging app, including “slave labor,” “union,” “grievance,” “pay raise” and “living wage” among others.

SEC investigation

Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is reportedly looking into how Amazon handled employee disclosure about third-party seller data believed to have been used to inform strategy for the e-commerce giant’s owned labels. The SEC’s enforcement division has asked for emails and communication records from several Amazon executives in an inquest that began a year ago, sources told the Wall Street Journal.

In April 2020, the WSJ reported that Amazon used non-aggregated or easily identifiable insights from its independent merchants to develop its own competing products and merchant profiles. One year earlier, several ex-employees from the Amazon Search Team, known as A9, alluded to the existence of an algorithm that gave that prioritize profitable items in search rankings to Amazon’s benefit.

The House Judiciary Committee began a Big Tech antitrust probe into Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, in late 2020. Amazon said it had launched an internal investigation into its private-label strategy soon after, but declined to submit the report to the committee.

Following a 16-month investigation, the committee last month accused Amazon of withholding information central to its review. In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, a bipartisan group of members requested that the Department of Justice look into “potentially criminal conduct” by Amazon and some of its executives, who they believe potentially withheld relevant evidence.

On Wednesday, the SEC sided with investors who have been demanding greater access to Amazon’s tax information, according to a letter seen by the Financial Times. Investors have been asking for an international, country-by-country tax overview. Amazon has pushed back against shareholders who last year demanded a vote on the issue. Following the SEC’s decision, the vote is set to take place at Amazon’s May 25 annual meeting.

“We are unable to agree with your view that the company can exclude the proposal,” an SEC regulator wrote to Amazon. “In our view, the proposal transcends ordinary business matters.”