Amazon warehouse workers have new chance to form union next month

Fresh election in Alabama comes after US official finds company violated labor law in last year’s vote

Amazon workers at an Alabama warehouse will get another chance to unionize next month, after a federal labor board set a February date for the rerun election.

The fresh vote comes after an official at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Amazon had violated labor law in the union election held last year and ruled in November that workers must get another chance to vote.

The National Labor Relations Board said on Tuesday that workers at the plant in Bessemer would vote by mail in the new election. Ballots will be mailed out on 4 February and must be returned by 25 March. Counting starts three days later.

The second election is a blow to Amazon, the US’s second-largest private employer, after Walmart. The company fought for a year to stop workers from forming its first union. Workers at the Bessemer plant ultimately voted 1,798 to 738 to reject the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

Amazon has about 750,000 warehouse workers in the US, and the company has come under fire over working conditions. Pro-union Bessemer workers said they spent 10-hour shifts on their feet in the warehouse and didn’t have enough time to take breaks.

The company aggressively opposed organizing efforts, sought to postpone the election and bombarded workers with anti-union messaging.

The RWDSU accused the company of illegal misconduct during last year’s vote. An NLRB officer who presided over the case later determined that Amazon violated labor law and recommended that the regional director set aside the results and order another election.

The NLRB’s decision, announced in November, further highlighted issues including Amazon’s installation of a US Postal Service mailbox at the main employee entrance, which the federal board said may have created the false impression that the company was the one conducting the election process. Lisa Henderson, the NLRB regional director who made the rare decision, rejected Amazon’s argument that it was making voting easier and was trying to encourage as high a turnout as possible.

“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,” Barbara Agrait, an Amazon spokesperson, said in an emailed statement on Tuesday, adding that she looked forward to having its team in Bessemer ‘”having their voices heard again”.

The RWDSU has taken issue with NLRB’s decision to hold an election by mail.

“We are deeply concerned that the decision fails to adequately prevent Amazon from continuing its objectionable behavior in a new election,” the union said in a statement. The union is pushing for an in-person election, which it feels could make the process fairer to workers.

Labor experts have warned that a union victory is a long shot and the RWDSU faces an uphill battle to unionize workers given high turnover rates that hamper efforts to organize. But Amazon did reach a settlement with the NLRB last month to allow its employees to freely organize – and without retaliation.

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

The settlement outlined that Amazon workers, would have more room to organize within the buildings. The company previously banned workers from areas around facilities for 15 minutes before or after their shifts, making it difficult for workers to organize, according to the New York Times. Amazon pledged it would 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.


Dani Anguiano and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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