While Amazon resoundingly defeated a union drive in Alabama, the matter is far from over as a push for a second election looms.
The nearly 6,000-employee Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, spent the past seven weeks voting on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. The move would have been historic, but on Friday, the National Labor Relations Board finished counting the ballots and announced that Amazon had won 1,798 votes, and the RWDSU only captured 738 votes.
Despite the loss, the union has vowed to fight on and push for a rerun election because of Amazon’s conduct during the vote. Even before the final totals were settled, the union announced that it would be lodging election objections and unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB against the retail giant.
The RWDSU claimed that Amazon “created an atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals and thus interfered with the employees’ freedom of choice.”
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The election objections will take some time. The RWDSU has until this Friday (five business days) to file objections to Region 10 of the NLRB contesting the conduct or results of the election, according to the labor board. As of Wednesday afternoon, the union still has not filed its objections.
Chelsea Connor, director of communications for the union, told the Washington Examiner during a phone interview that the RWDSU will submit the documents by the deadline and that her organization sees good odds about being granted a rerun election.
The objections, once filed, will target specific accusations of wrongdoing by Amazon, possibly claims that the company unduly pressed the U.S. Postal Service to install a mailbox outside the warehouse and held meetings to try and sway the votes of the Bessemer employees.
The company was also accused of bombarding workers with messages and calls railing against unionization and, according to congressional testimony from one Bessemer employee, plastered the walls with fliers, including inside the bathrooms of the warehouse.
Amazon has pushed back on claims that it improperly interfered in the election. It said in a statement after its Friday win that it was “easy to predict” that the union would accuse it of intimidating the Bessemer employees, “but that’s not true.”
“Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us. And Amazon didn’t win—our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union,” the company said.
Amazon also sent a statement to the Washington Examiner on Thursday defending the use of the mailbox outside of the warehouse.
"We said from the beginning that we wanted all employees to vote and proposed many different options to try and make it easy," a spokesperson said. "The RWDSU fought those at every turn and pushed for a mail-only election, which the NLRB's own data showed would reduce turnout. This mailbox — which only the USPS had access to — was a simple, secure, and completely optional way to make it easy for employees to vote, no more and no less."
After the objections are filed, the regional director of the NLRB will decide whether the evidence described in the offer of proof has the potential to trigger a hearing. If the director determines the objections merit a hearing, both Amazon and the RWDSU would be notified about when and where the hearing will take place.
If a hearing is deemed appropriate, depending on the number of objections, the process could take several weeks to sort through. If the remedial outcome of the hearing is to toss the results, Amazon could appeal that decision if it has a compelling reason to question the regional director’s decision. Amazon’s conduct doesn’t need to be illegal to ruin the election, according to Bloomberg Law.
There is also the question of unfair labor practice claims. If an NRLB regional director finds merit to the allegations, he or she could decide to bring the case before an administrative law judge. After that, the case can be appealed to the NLRB’s five-member board in Washington, D.C. The board could then rule in favor of a rerun election based off of the unfair labor practice claims.
If another election is held, the labor board would decide exactly how the second one would be conducted. The first election provided workers at the Bessemer facility with nearly two months to mail in their ballots for tabulation. In determining how long the rerun would last, the NLRB would likely take the COVID-19 rate and other factors into consideration.
And even if a second election is held and the RWDSU loses once more, there is nothing that stops the union from restarting the process from square one, which would require going through all of the initial steps that the union spent months doing last year. The union likely prefers a rerun, though, as it saves time.
“We’re talking about several weeks, if not months,” Connor said of the future of the Bessemer unionization effort.
In the meantime, Connor said the union is still keeping in close contact with workers at the Bessemer facility.
“They were with us as the vote was counted, we had a rally on Sunday with workers to speak about next steps,” Connor said. “These are conversations and relationships that you build over months and months.”
The RWDSU is optimistic about Bessemer’s future and believes it has “a very strong case” that “Amazon acted illegally and improperly in this election,” she said. “We hope that the board will swiftly investigate the wrongdoing here and ensure that the workers voices can truly be heard at this facility.”
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The Washington Examiner contacted Amazon to comment on what it anticipates the next steps in the process will be like but did not immediately receive a response.