Amazon Workers Will Vote Again on Whether to Join Union Despite Company's Opposition

Following a Monday ruling from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama will take part in a second election on whether or not to form a union, according to The Associated Press.

The decision comes after objections were made to the first vote that was conducted in April. The effort was led by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which hoped to use a victory in Bessemer as a step to unionize Amazon workers around the country.

NLRB Regional Director Lisa Henderson released a 20-page decision, focusing on tactics enacted by Amazon leading some to believe the company was trying to create the impression among workers that it was in charge of the election process.

"The employer's flagrant disregard for the board's typical mail-ballot procedure compromised the authority of the board and made a free and fair election impossible," Henderson said in her decision. "By installing a postal mailbox at the main employee entrance, the employer essentially highjacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process. This dangerous and improper message to employees destroys trust in the board's processes and in the credibility of the election results. "

The RWDSU alleged that Amazon interfered with the voting process in April, and an NLRB hearing officer determined in August that the company violated labor laws and said Henderson should set aside the election results and call for a new one.

The order will stand unless Amazon files a request within the next 10 days for the full board of the NLRB to review the decision, which could lead to the board allowing it to continue, a reversal and halting of the election, or results of the second election being thrown out if the NLRB sides with the corporation after the vote has taken place.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Amazon, Unions, Labor Rights
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union has announced a new union vote for Amazon workers at a Bessemer, Alabama facility. Above, a banner encouraging workers to vote in labor balloting is shown at the warehouse in Bessemer, on March 30, 2021. Jay Reeves/Associated Press File

The board has not yet determined the date for the second election and it hasn't determined whether it will be conducted in person or by mail.

About 53 percent of the nearly 6,000 workers cast ballots during the first election.

Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, called the decision "disappointing."

"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," she said. "It's disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn't count."

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, saw the NLRB decision as a victory.

"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, " he said in a statement. "Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union."

But even if a second election is allowed to move forward, labor experts say a union victory is a long shot. Amazon will likely appeal and try to delay another vote. And even when an election is held, workers may choose to vote against joining a union again. Last time around, 1,798 workers rejected the union and 738 voted in favor of it.

A repeat of the election means another battle for Amazon with the RWDSU. The first election garnered nationwide attention and put a spotlight on how Amazon treats its workers. It was the biggest union push in Amazon's history and only the second time that an organizing effort from within the company had come to a vote.

Pro-union employees at the Bessemer facility said they spent 10-hour shifts on their feet in the warehouse, where online orders are packed and shipped and didn't have enough time to take breaks. A union could force Amazon to offer more break time or higher pay, those workers said. Amazon, meanwhile, argued that it already offered more than twice the minimum wage in Alabama plus benefits without workers having to pay union dues.

Amazon has been fighting two different attempts by workers to unionize in the past year.

Former Amazon employee Christian Smalls is organizing an effort at a distribution center in Staten Island, New York without the help of a national sponsor. The labor board was expected to hold a hearing to determine whether there was sufficient interest to form a union there but less than two weeks earlier, the group led by Smalls withdrew its petition. The workers, however, can refile.

Other organizing efforts are afoot beyond Amazon, including by workers at three separate Starbucks stores in and around Buffalo, New York. Meanwhile, thousands of unionized workers at Kellogg Co. remain on strike amid widespread worker unrest across the country.

Amazon, Unions, Labor Rights
The NLRB has announced that there will likely be a second vote on unionizing at the Bessemer, Alabama Amazon facility. Above, people hold "Vote Union Yes!" signs during a protest in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate and the unionization of Amazon workers on March 27, 2021, in Birmingham, Alabama. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images