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NLRB Rules Amazon Warehouse Workers Get a Do-Over on Union Vote

The Amazon warehouse that started a failed unionization drive in April is getting a second go-round at the behest of the U.S.’ top labor relations agency.

On Monday, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) formally granted workers at the Bessemer, Ala. location a new election to unionize. The decision was based on the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s (RWDSU) objections to Amazon’s conduct during the spring election.

Although the original election wasn’t close—1,798 workers opposed the union and 738 employees voted in favor of joining the RWDSU—the results were scrapped by the NLRB amid the union’s allegations that the election wasn’t “free and fair.”

The agency first recommended in August that the results should be thrown out due to Amazon’s interference with the “conditions necessary to conduct a fair election.”

Amazon was disappointed with the NLRB ruling, according to spokesperson Kelly Nantel.

“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,” Nantel said in a statement shared with Sourcing Journal. “As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes—quickly. That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle. The benefits of direct relationships between managers and employees can’t be overstated—these relationships allow every employee’s voice to be heard, not just the voices of a select few.”

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In the statement, Nantel spoke of Amazon’s progress in pay and safety, where “we know there are plenty of things that we can keep doing better, both in our fulfillment centers and in our corporate offices, and that’s our focus—to work directly with our employees to keep getting better every day.”

After the initial April loss, the RWDSU filed 23 objections with the NLRB, with the centerpiece involving a mailbox installed in the warehouse parking lot. The union alleged that the mailbox was installed to cast votes, giving the appearance that Amazon was involved in the collection of votes (and the election itself) instead of the NLRB. Amazon itself didn’t install the mailbox, but it did request the U.S. Postal Service to install the unit.

“By causing the Postal Service to install a cluster mailbox unit, communicating and encouraging employees to cast their ballots using the mailbox, wrapping the mailbox with its slogan, and placing the mailbox at a location where employees could reasonably believe they were being surveilled, the employer engaged in objectionable conduct that warrants setting aside the election,” said Lisa Henderson, NLRB Region 10 director, in a statement.

In testimony, USPS official Jay Smith, who works as a liaison for large clients like Amazon, said that he was surprised to see an Amazon-branded tent around the mailbox because the company appeared to have found a way around his explicit instructions to not place anything physically on the mailbox.

The RWDSU initially alleged that since the mailbox was in full view of parking lot security cameras, it may have created the impression of surveillance, which “could record the employees entering and exiting the tent erected around the collection box to cast ballots.” Additionally, there were other claims accusing Amazon of spreading of misinformation, threatening and even causing the county to alter the timing of certain traffic lights.

“The employer’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,” Henderson said.

Henderson’s decision affirmed the NLRB’s recommendation and outlined directions for the new election. The date and method of the new election are yet to be determined.

“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,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU in a statement. “Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union.”