US labour official says Amazon union vote should be redone

The union has accused Amazon of illegally threatening staff with reduced benefits, compromising election’s integrity.

Amazon has said it plans to appeal the recommendation to recast the vote [File: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images]

A US labour board official has recommended a rerun of a landmark Inc union election in Alabama where employees had voted overwhelmingly against making their warehouse the online retailer’s first to organise in the United States.

In the coming weeks, a regional director for the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will decide whether to order the rerun based on this recommendation, said an official with the board on Monday who asked not to be named.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which workers rejected joining earlier this year by a more than 2-1 margin, had said Amazon illegally threatened staff with reduced benefits and compromised the election’s integrity via a ballot collection box it secured outside the warehouse.

The labour official’s recommendation in support of a new election focused on problems with the collection box, a person familiar with the matter said. The Reuters news agency said has not seen a copy of the recommendation, which a labour board official said may be released on Tuesday.

During the NLRB hearing, an employee said Amazon security guards used keys to open the mailbox, testimony that former NLRB chair Wilma Liebman said could be reason enough to overturn the result, the Bloomberg news agency reported.

Amazon has said that it had no access to the outgoing mail and that it asked the Postal Service to install the mailbox in order to boost voter turnout in the union election.

The labour board has the authority to invalidate election results in response to conduct that could have changed the outcome and prevented employees from making a free choice about whether to unionise, which can include even creating the impression of surveillance or interference by management in the balloting process.

Amazon said it planned to appeal.

“Our employees had a chance to be heard during a noisy time when all types of voices were weighing into the national debate, and at the end of the day, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of a direct connection with their managers and the company,” Amazon said in a statement.

Stuart Appelbaum, the RWDSU’s president, welcomed the recommendation on Monday and said: “The question of whether or not to have a union is supposed to be the workers’ decision and not the employer’s.”

Pressure tactics

During a May hearing that lasted three weeks, the RWDSU had argued Amazon improperly influenced voting by pressuring employees to drop ballots in the mailbox while they were in view of warehouse cameras, creating a perception of surveillance that US labour law forbids. Amazon also improperly adorned a tent surrounding the mailbox with messaging related to its anti-union campaign, the RWDSU had said.

Amazon has said the mailbox was installed to give nearly 6,000 eligible voters a convenient option for returning their ballots and that the tent shielded workers from cameras, which predated the collection box.

The recommendation casts doubt on Amazon’s victory over the unionising effort in a contest that amounted to a setback for the US labour movement. The union’s organising campaign drew implicit support from US President Joe Biden and legislators including Senator Bernie Sanders, who visited the warehouse.

US labour law forbids companies from threatening to cut benefits or close facilities when workers support a union. The law also prohibits them from spying on organising activities or leaving employees with the impression they are under surveillance.

Still, employers such as Amazon have wide legal latitude to campaign aggressively, including by requiring employees to attend mandatory meetings that cast unions in a negative light. Amazon held such meetings, sent text messages to employees and even displayed campaign literature in at least one of the Alabama warehouse’s restroom stalls.

Source: News Agencies