Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 19 April 2021



Union alleges Amazon pressured workers as it seeks to set aside warehouse vote

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A sign at the entrance to an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., where workers rejected unionization in a vote that ended March 29. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Amazon spokeswoman Heather Knox questioned the RWDSU’s challenge in the aftermath of the Bessemer staff overwhelmingly opposing unionization.

“Rather than accepting these employees’ choice, the union seems determined to continue misrepresenting the facts in order to drive its own agenda,” Knox said in an emailed statement. “We look forward to the next steps in the legal process.”

(Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

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While many of the union’s allegations echo claims it made during the course of the organizing drive, it made a series of new allegations as well. In its filing, the union accused Amazon of firing a union supporter “for passing out union authorization cards in non-working areas.” The RWDSU also accused the company of disciplining “an outspoken supporter” of the union for challenging Amazon’s arguments during mandatory meetings. The union didn’t name either worker or disclose the specific discipline.

The RWDSU included a charge it previously leveled at Amazon over a U.S. Postal Service mailbox that popped up in front of the warehouse just after voting started. The union obtained emails through Freedom of Information Act requests that show that Amazon employees pressed the Postal Service to install a mailbox just as the seven-week mail-in balloting began.

In its filing, the union argued the mailbox, which has no U.S. Postal Service markings, created the impression that Amazon had a role in collecting and counting ballots, potentially influencing their votes. And it noted that the NLRB, which set the rules for the election, rejected Amazon’s request to put ballot boxes at the warehouse for in-person voting. The labor board cited concerns about the safety of Amazon workers and agency staff members during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Amazon has previously defended the mailbox placement, saying it made voting easier for workers, and that only the Postal Service had access to it.

The union also claimed in its filing that Amazon’s successful effort to convince local county officials to change the timing of a traffic light just outside the warehouse improperly inhibited its ability to engage with workers at the end of their shifts. Amazon has said it requested the change to improve traffic flow.

And the union also alleged that a financial offer Amazon made to lure unhappy workers to quit amounted to an improper incentive to weed out pro-union workers. Amazon has countered those charges, noting that it began offering financial incentives to quit in 2014 and extends the initiative to all its North American warehouse staff.

The RWDSU filing also claims Amazon threatened layoffs, and even closing the warehouse, if workers voted for union representation. It alleges Amazon “disparately enforced” its pandemic-related social distancing policy in the warehouse, permitting anti-union staff to campaign but preventing pro-union workers from having the same sort of access.

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