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Labor Board Calls for New Amazon Union Election After Finding Company Misconduct

Though union election reruns are often unsuccessful, the high profile of this election could make a difference.

A Vote banner hangs at an Amazon fulfillment center early on March 27, 2021, in Bessemer, Alabama.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has directed that Amazon workers in Alabama get a second chance at forming a union after finding that the company illegally interfered with the union election earlier this year.

As the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) pointed out after the first union election failed in April, Amazon employed a number of tactics to bust the union effort, which gained national attention. If the employees succeed this time, they will be the first Amazon workers to successfully unionize, which would send a shockwave across the country at a time of major labor unrest.

Union election reruns are often unsuccessful, since the company’s efforts to poison the well are likely to stick around even after the first election. In fact, using illegal tactics and risking a second election is a common union-busting strategy.

The date of the rerun has still yet to be determined — but because Amazon won the first election by a decisive 2 to 1 margin, the company is likely betting that it will be unsuccessful. There’s also nothing stopping Amazon from employing shady union-busting tactics again this time around, as punishments for employing illegal anti-union maneuvers are often equivalent to a slap on the wrist for large companies.

Still, with the high profile that the Bessemer, Alabama union drive garnered last spring, labor advocates and the union are hoping that this rerun may prove an exception. Since the union drive, the company has become the target of labor advocates and garnered scrutiny for its efforts to crush pro-union sentiment among its workers. Meanwhile, the union drive inspired over 1,000 Amazon workers across the country to inquire about unionizing their locations, according to the RWDSU.

“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 [NLRB] Regional Director has indicated, that is both unacceptable and illegal,” said RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum on Monday. “Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union.”

Amazon likely spent millions hiring anti-union consultants and police to intimidate workers and people who supported the union drive. Among a litany of other unscrupulous tactics, it installed a mailbox just outside of the warehouse that was supposedly there for workers to mail their union ballots, but in reality was likely surveilled by the company, the NLRB found.

The NLRB sharply criticized the company for its misconduct, saying that Amazon displayed “flagrant disregard” for labor laws in its anti-union campaign. The company “essentially hijacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process,” especially with its installation of the mailbox, the NLRB’s Atlanta regional director wrote.

Meanwhile, the company has already begun its messaging against the union election in response to the announcement of the rerun.

“Our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees.” The statement went on to say that the NLRB decision invalidates the employees’ vote earlier this year. Of course, the company’s supposed concern for respecting employees’ decision-making is dubious considering they spent months pressuring and intimidating workers into voting no.

Labor advocates have used the Amazon union drive as an example of why Congress should pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would create harsher punishments for companies found participating in union-busting activities — ones that could actually incentivize trillion-dollar companies to comply with labor laws.

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