The labor movement is getting a new lease of life thanks to a recommendation to nullify election results from an Amazon union vote in Bessemer (Alabama).
Monday’s recommendation was made by the National Labor Relations Board hearing officer. He stated that Amazon could have interfered in the April election, when warehouse workers rejected the proposal to unionize.
Experts in labor say it is rare for a hearing office to request a new election, but Amazon’s case shows that there is a chance. The NLRB’s regional director typically follows the guidance of the hearing officer.
The labor board’s criteria for determining new elections favor the union and not Amazon. According to Kerstin Meyers’ preliminary opinion of 61 pages, the board must determine if the company “reasonably tried to interfere with employees’ free and unempowered choice in the election.” It should not decide whether employees were coerced.
“They are looking into whether there has been any conduct that interferes employees’ freedom of choice,” stated William Gould (a Stanford Law School law professor and former chairman of NRLB 1994-1998). The board doesn’t want workers to think that the employer controls the process. The process is being managed by the government, an impartial third party, and not the employer.
In its filing with the NLRB in April, the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, which spearheaded the unionization campaign in Bessemer, said that Amazon threatened workers with layoffs and even closing the warehouse if they unionized. The union also claimed that Amazon fired a prounion employee but refused to identify the individual.
The union alleges that Amazon placed a mailbox in the Bessemer warehouse’s parking lot. According to the union, the mailbox gave the false impression that Amazon was conducting an election and intimidated workers into voting against it. According to the retail union, security cameras installed in the lot could have captured workers going to the mailbox. This would give the impression that workers are being monitored by Amazon and that their votes are not private.
Meyers stated that when recommending her recommendations, the NLRB should consider many factors including the number of incidents, the severity of the incidents, and whether they are likely to cause fear among employees.
Meyers stated that Meyers’ evidence showed that Meyers’ employer interfered with laboratory conditions required to conduct fair elections.
Labor experts warn that it could take months before any agreement is reached. There are many appeals from both the workers and the union. Many believe that Amazon will still win despite a do over due to the high turnover of warehouse workers, which makes it difficult to organize.
Kent Wong, director of UCLA Labor Center, stated that it would be a tremendous moral victory to disqualify the election. It would still be a difficult fight to secure victory in the election.
Alexander Colvin, Cornell University professor of labor relations law and history, said that Amazon could still appeal to workers even if the union wins.
He said, “They could argue the election was tainted.” They have the ability to resolve it procedurally without engaging in bargaining.
Any conclusion will take a long time.
The hearing officer may request responses from Amazon and RWDSU. The NLRB regional director will then review the recommendations and make a decision about whether a new election is ordered. According to the labor board, a decision could take several weeks. Either party can appeal the decision to Washington’s full NLRB board.
Amazon has so far indicated that it is willing to fight. It issued a statement late Monday stating that employees had “overwhelmingly voted in favor of a direct link with their managers” and the company. We intend to appeal to them to make sure their voices are heard above all others.
Coalition for a Democratic Workplace is a coalition of more than 600 business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Restaurant Association and National Restaurant Association. It has criticized the NLRB for its preliminary recommendations that could have rescinded Amazon’s will to hire workers.
Kristen Swearingen (chair of the coalition), stated that “it’s disappointing” that the NLRB would consider to side with Big Labor and ignore the will of American workers in a statement.
RWDSU president Stuart Applebaum said that he was not surprised by the recommendations of the hearing officer and that if another election takes place, the union will have a greater chance of winning. He said that labor organizers remain on the ground in Bessemer, and that he is seeing the prounion movement among workers.
Applebaum stated that Amazon may have won the first vote count but is losing the debate around the world.