Union Upset Alabama Amazon Plant's Second Vote to Organize Will Be Conducted By Mail

Workers at an Amazon plant in Bessemer, Alabama, will vote again next month on whether to unionize after a federal labor board ordered a new election. But one union that took issue with how the initial election was run in April objected again Tuesday, this time to the National Labor Relations Board's decision to hold the vote through the mail.

"Amazon's misconduct during the first union election so tainted the outcome that the NLRB overturned the results and directed a second election for workers in Bessemer, Alabama," the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said in a statement. "We are deeply concerned that the decision fails to adequately prevent Amazon from continuing its objectionable behavior in a new election."

The RWDSU said it had suggested several remedies after the first election that "could have made the process fairer to workers," but the NLRB did not follow any of those remedies. The RWDSU did not elaborate on its concerns with the election format or what remedies it had suggested.

In the 20-page decision to order a new election issued in November, Lisa Henderson, the regional director for the NLRB, objected to Amazon's installation of a U.S. Postal Service mailbox to collect ballots at the main employee entrance.

"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 wrote.

"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."

Alabama Amazon Plant
A near-empty parking lot after all of the votes for or against unionization are collected during a work day at the Amazon warehouse on April 8, 2021 in Bessemer, Alabama. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is arguing Amazon has "tainted" the new voting process. Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

The National Labor Relations Board said Tuesday that the ballots will be mailed out Feb. 4 and must be returned before the counting starts on March 28.

The order for a new election was a blow to Amazon, which spent about a year aggressively campaigning for warehouse workers in Bessemer to reject the union, which they ultimately did by a wide margin.

"Our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they overwhelmingly chose not to join the RWDSU last year," said Amazon spokeswoman Barbara Agrait in an emailed statement Tuesday, adding that she looks forward to having its team in Bessemer '"having their voices heard again."

RWDSU faces an uphill battle to unionize workers given such high quit rates, but Amazon did reach a settlement with the NLRB last month to allow its employees to freely organize — and without retaliation.

According to the settlement, the online behemoth said it would reach out to its warehouse workers — former and current — via email who were on the job anytime from March 22 of last year to notify them of their organizing rights.

The settlement outlined that Amazon workers, which number 750,000 in the U.S., have more room to organize within the buildings. For example, Amazon pledged it will not threaten workers with discipline or call the police when they are engaging in union activity in exterior non-work areas during non-work time.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Amazon Union Vote
Workers at an Amazon plant in Bessemer, Alabama, will vote again next month on whether to unionize after a federal labor board ordered a new election. The Amazon logo is displayed outside the Amazon UK Services Ltd Warehouse on Jan. 5, 2022 in Warrington, England. Nathan Stirk/Getty Images