Amazon said in a statement acknowledging the company’s landslide win in the NLRB union vote in Bessemer, Ala. earlier this month that it didn’t “intimidate” voters to secure its victory. Days later, outgoing CEO Jeff Bezos (who will likely control Amazon from the boardroom for years or decades to come) proclaimed in a letter to shareholders that he would strive to transform Amazon into a workers paradise (more specifically, he promised to remake Amazon into “Earth’s Best Eployer and Earth’s Safest Place To Work.”
Following the stunning defeat in this month’s unionization vote at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bessemer, While we suspect many Amazon workers would settle for just a little more leniency to use the bathroom during their shifts without requiring the use of bottles, it looks like the fledgling union in Bessemer is already planning to push back after the massive defeat, alleging a wide-ranging conspiracy by Amazon to sabotage the vote.
Of the 3,215 ballots cast, there were 1,798 votes opposing the union and 738 in favor.
After months of accusing Amazon of fighting dirty, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union at BHM1 in Bessemer has filed an official complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming Amazon violated numerous NLRB rules and prevented a “free and fair” union election.
In the filing, which was leaked to Wired ahead of time, the union outlined 23 objections to Amazon’s conduct, arguing that the company “prevented a free and uncoerced exercise of choice by the employees.” Eight of the objections concern the collection box Amazon installed in the warehouse parking lot to collect ballots for the election. The RWDSU argues in the filiing that the collection box violated the procedural rules because the board never authorized the box and had denied Amazon’s request for one inside the warehouse. Meanwhile, the collection box was set up in a way that, the union alleges, created the impression that Amazon, not the NLRB, had control over the election and constituted improper voter surveillance
The other claims included in the complaint describe a coordinated campaign to allegedly coerce, frighten and intimidate workers into voting against the union.
The union’s 15 other claims outline a campaign to allegedly coerce, frighten, and intimidate workers into voting against the union. The RWDSU accuses Amazon’s “agents” of unlawfully threatening employees with the loss of their benefits and pay if the union won and warning that the facility might close altogether. The union claims Amazon stifled the right to free discussion by booting workers out of employee meetings for questioning anti-union talking points, selectively enforced social distancing rules against believed union supporters, and interfered with employees’ ability to talk to the union by pressuring local officials to change policies governing how workers exited the warehouse and change the timing of a nearby traffic light. The union accuses Amazon of creating “an atmosphere of coercion and intimidation” by hiring uniformed off-duty police officers to patrol the parking lot, watching employees and organizers. One claim cites an email Amazon supposedly sent workers, saying they’d have to lay off 75 percent of the proposed unit because of the union.
If the board rules in favor of the union, it could render the outcome irrelevant, despite Amazon’s crushing victory. The most likely outcome would be a “do-over”, according to Wired. But the board could also compel Amazon to bargain directly with the union.
Many unions choose not to even bother with NLRB elections, believing that holding an election against well-funded management (that also signs would-be voters’ paychecks) is like playing with a stacked deck. Wired seemed to suggest Amazon workers try the strategy of “recognition strikes”, which have been used by the Teamsters and others before. It means striking until an employer agrees to recognize a union that has majority support within the shop.
Wired also pointed out that Democrats in Congress are quickly moving to help strengthen unions, traditionally a cornerstone constituency of the Democratic base. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act passed the House in March. It includes several provisions that would level the playing field, including a ban on captive audience meetings – often used by employers to denigrate unions. Unfortunately for Amazon workers in Bessemer, and elsewhere in the US, Senate support currently falls well short of the 60 votes needed to get around the filibuster.