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A failed vote to unionize at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama must be repeated over concerns the tech giant has improperly influenced workers, a US labor council official has recommended.
After a campaign that attracted international attention, the employees of the Bessemer branch in April voted overwhelmingly against unionization, with a final score of 1,798 to 738. Ballot papers were sent out to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
It was the first union vote to take place at an Amazon facility in the US and was considered a breakthrough moment for organized labor in the country.
Following the outcome, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union immediately filed an appeal, accusing Amazon of illegal union-breaking efforts.
A hearing officer for the National Labor Relations Board sided with the union’s opinion Monday, said a person familiar with the findings, advising the Atlanta council’s regional director to order a repeat of the election.
“Amazon’s conduct during the election process was despicable,” said Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU president. “Amazon has cheated, they have been caught and they are being held accountable.”
The NLRB declined to comment, but indicated the full findings could be published as early as Tuesday.
The final decision on whether to retake the vote could take weeks to complete, the NLRB has previously said, during which time each party could file objections for consideration by the regional official.
If the regional officer upholds the hearing officer’s recommendation, as usual, Amazon can file its appeal with the NLRB in Washington.
In a statement, Amazon said it was willing to do so and said it was against any move for a second vote, which could be held in person this time if coronavirus infection rates were adequately controlled.
“Our employees were given the opportunity to be heard in a tumultuous time when voices of all kinds weighed in on the national debate,” Amazon said. “And in the end, they voted overwhelmingly for a direct connection to their managers and the company.”
“Their voices need to be heard above all else, and we plan to appeal to make sure that happens,” Amazon said.
The Hearing Officer’s conclusion would have focused on the use of a purpose-built letterbox in the warehouse’s parking lot, around which a tent had been erected with pro-Amazon messages. The union argued that it gave workers the impression that their votes were being monitored.
E-mail correspondence obtained during the appeals process revealed that Amazon executives pressured US Postal Service employees to quickly install the mailbox so that it was ready in time for the vote.
An Amazon executive, Becky Moore, wrote that the mailbox installation was a “highly visible Dave Clark initiative,” citing the company’s head of global consumer affairs, and a direct report to then-chief executive Jeff Bezos.
A number of employees testified that they did not trust Amazon to leave the mailbox undisturbed, although the company said it did not have access to outgoing mail.
“Amazon said only the post office could access it, but it didn’t feel that way,” said Serena Wallace, an employee of the 855,000-square-foot facility.
The union also said workers were given inaccurate information during mandatory meetings about what would happen if the warehouse became a union store.
In the wake of the April vote, Bezos said Amazon would strive to become “the best employer on Earth.”
‘Is your chairman comforted by the result of the recent trade union vote in Bessemer? No, he doesn’t,” Bezos writes in a letter to shareholders. “I think we should do better for our employees.”