Workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, will get another chance to vote on a union. The National Labor Relations Board formally ordered a new election on Monday, setting up another showdown between Amazon and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store union after it lost an election to represent Bessemer workers earlier this year, a result it attributed partly to aggressive tactics from Amazon. Amazon had strongly urged workers to reject a union, even placing a mailbox in a parking lot to collect ballots. “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. Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union,” Stuart Appelbaum, the union’s president, said in a statement.
An NLRB hearing officer had recommended in August the labor board order another election. In this new decision, tweeted out by HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson, the board official blasts Amazon. The mailbox gambit in particular “raised several election-related issues,” the decision reads. “These issues include solicitation, the collection and security of the mail ballots, surveillance or the impression of surveillance, and the false impression that the Employer — not the Board — controlled the election.” Amazon, the decision goes on to state, “essentially argues that its sincere and good-faith intent in increasing voter turnout absolves it of any appearance of impropriety.” Instead, it is “patently clear” from Amazon’s “arguments and the record that, but for the Board election, the Employer would not have asked the Postal Service to install a mailbox outside the main entrance of its facility. Tellingly, the Employer has not proffered a business justification unrelated to the election to justify its urgent need for the mailbox.”
That vindicates the union, which had argued as much when it raised objections to the mailbox and Amazon’s other, vehement attempts to convince workers to reject a union. Amazon, meanwhile, insists it did nothing wrong. “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,” spokesperson Kelly Nantel told the Washington Post. “It’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count.”
This is misleading language from Amazon. The NLRB isn’t disenfranchising Amazon workers; instead, it found that Amazon had done so itself, by denying them an opportunity to freely evaluate unionization. The NLRB’s decision affirms the rightness of the union’s position: Amazon really did rig matters against the union. That may constrain Amazon somewhat in another matchup with the union. Yet workers rejected unionization by such a large margin in March that the union still faces a difficult path to victory. American labor law is still weak, and Amazon still has the resources necessary to pull off a tough but legal anti-union campaign. That may be enough to defeat unionization for a second time in Alabama.
Nevertheless, the NLRB’s decision to order a second election in Bessemer does send a message to employers: that workers have rights, and employers have legal obligations. Flout them, and there are consequences.