By Jessica Corbett / Common Dreams
In a victory for employees at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, a federal labor official on Monday formally directed a new union election following allegations that the company engaged in illegal misconduct leading up to an unsuccessful vote in April.
“Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union.”
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), celebrated the order from National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 10 Director Lisa Henderson, which a spokesperson for the agency confirmed to multiple media outlets.
“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,” Appelbaum said. “Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union.”
After the initial union drive—which garnered national attention and support from key labor rights figures including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—RWDSU filed nearly two dozen complaints with the NLRB alleging that Amazon threatened workers with loss of pay and benefits, removed pro-union employees from trainings, and installed an illegal ballot drop box.
Henderson’s directive comes after NLRB hearing officer Kerstin Meyers in August recommended that the Alabama workers get another vote because Amazon’s “conduct interfered with the laboratory conditions necessary to conduct a fair election.”
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel told Protocol on Monday that “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.”
The outlet noted that while no unionization push by Amazon workers has succeeded, there are two other ongoing initiatives: “The International Brotherhood of Teamsters union has committed to organizing delivery drivers and truckers as a nationwide priority, and an unaffiliated union effort in Staten Island has fought for enough employee signatures to request an NLRB election at the facilities there.”
Jordan Zakarin of More Perfect Union pointed out that “election re-runs are rarely more successful than the first election, and Amazon has an astronomically high turnover rate.”
“Those are high hurdles,” he tweeted. “Still, the public support for this campaign and the budding worker militancy we’re seeing nationwide could make things interesting.”
Labor writer Kim Kelly similarly said that “it’s very rare to win a re-run election, but I know the union has already been organizing for months, and some of the conditions that hamstrung that first effort have changed. Overall I am extremely interested to see what happens!”
Though the time and method of the new election haven’t yet been determined, the regional director’s decision against the e-commerce giant came on Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year.
Last week, some progressives marked Black Friday—another major holiday shopping event—by pressuring the evenly divided U.S. Senate to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. Those calls included highlighting Amazon’s opposition to its workers unionizing.
Demands to pass the pro-union legislation came as Amazon employees and allies took to the streets around the world for #MakeAmazonPay demonstrations urging the online retailer to improve labor conditions, increase wages, operate more sustainably, and pay its fair share of taxes.