Labor board authorizes new Amazon union vote

The director of the National Labor Relation Board’s 10th region has authorized a new union election for workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center. An NLRB representative has confirmed the decision with TechCrunch, which would see the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union getting a second chance to unionize workers at the site, following its defeat back in April.

The victory was a lopsided one for the mega-retailer, though the RWDSU immediately called shenanigans in what was expected to be a major test for unionizing efforts for blue collar tech workers. At the time, the union accused Amazon of “gaslighting” employees through “egregious and blatantly illegal action.”

Amazon naturally denied the accusations, stating, “It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true. Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us.”

RWDSU head Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement today that the new ruling serves as vindication for those earlier claims, “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. Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union.”

“The National Labor Relations Board will conduct a second secret ballot election among the unit employees,” the board noted in its ruling. “Employees will vote whether they wish to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The manner, date, time, and place of the election will be specified in a Notice of Second Election.”

The ruling specifically affirmed the RWDSU’s objections to an on-site mailbox installed by Amazon, as well as “vote no” signage. The followup election will no doubt become another national flashpoint for unionization efforts that have only grown in momentum during the pandemic and subsequent economic slowdowns.

Amazon expressed displeasure at today’s ruling. Spokesperson Kelly Nantel noted in a statement:

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. 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. 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. While we’ve made great progress in important areas like pay and safety, 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.

A date for the re-vote has not yet been confirmed — nor is it clear whether the vote will be conducted in person or via mail. Amazon can request a board review in an attempt to delay or cancel a second vote.