Amazon seeks to block workers from voting by mail in landmark union drive

  • 5,000 workers in Bessemer, Alabama, to vote in landmark effort
  • Mail ballots used in similar votes because of coronavirus

Amazon is attempting to force workers planning to unionize at an Alabama warehouse to vote in person rather than by mail as it fights off a landmark attempt by its staff to organize.

The company is appealing against a ruling by a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) officer to permit 5,800 employees at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, to begin casting ballots by mail to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

The NLRB, the federal agency responsible for enforcing US labor law, favors manual elections but has moved to supporting mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic. Between March and November 2020, 90% of union election representation cases presided by the NLRB were conducted by mail rather than in-person.

On Monday the state said there had been 350,988 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Alabama since March and 6,662 confirmed deaths.

The appeal was filed on 21 January by attorneys representing Amazon, who argued a mail-in ballot election would take too long and involve too many resources, and requested the board postpone the election until the NLRB reviews Amazon’s appeals.

The NLRB is currently scheduled to begin mailing out ballots for the election on 8 February. The union filed their initial petition requesting a union election on 20 November.

If successful, Amazon workers at the BHM1 warehouse in Bessemer would be the company’s first warehouse in the United States to unionize.

Under the Trump administration, the NLRB halted several mail-in ballot union elections during the pandemic in 2020 to review employer arguments for in-person voting.

In April 2020, attorneys for the union avoidance law firm Jackson Lewis asserted in a blogpost that “Mail ballot elections favor unions,” citing the decreased ability of employers to dissuade workers from supporting unionization ahead of an election.

Amazon has strongly opposed unionization and organizing efforts throughout its network in the US. In September 2018, an anti-union training video distributed to managers at Amazon-owned Whole Foods was leaked after a group of workers announced the formation of Whole Worker, a group intent on unionizing workers at the grocery chain.

During the coronavirus pandemic, several workers at Amazon warehouses have alleged they were fired in retaliation for organizing protests demanding coronavirus safety protections. Recent reports have exposed Amazon’s use of surveillance and heat mapping networks to track labor unions and unionization risks across the US and Europe.

Ahead of the Alabama warehouse union election, Amazon launched an anti-union website targeted at its warehouse workers, emphasizing union dues to try to dissuade workers from unionizing.

“Don’t buy that dinner, don’t buy those school supplies, don’t buy those gifts because you won’t have that almost $500 you paid in dues. Why not save the money and get the books, gifts, and things you want?” a section of the website claims.


Michael Sainato

The GuardianTramp

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