By Craig Monger

After a labor board threw out the first vote, Amazon workers in Bessemer will get to vote a second time whether to unionize. 

In the first quarter of 2021, Amazon workers voted whether or not to join The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Of the 5,800 workers, fewer than half of them submitted ballots. The vote concluded with the majority deciding not to unionize by a margin of 1,798 to 738.

Immediately following the results of the vote, RWDSU filed an objection, stating that Amazon had violated labor laws by not providing the correct parameters for a fair election. Among various complaints, the union claimed Amazon pressured the postal service into installing a ballot box in the warehouse and erecting a tent around the box. The union also claimed that Amazon had created multiple impressions that individual employee votes would be known by Amazon management. Amazon had also previously polled employees, which the union asserted would make employees feel pressured into voting no. 

On Nov. 29, The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) voted in favor of the union’s challenge. The NLRB released its decision saying that it agreed with the union’s objections and that Amazon had conducted the vote inappropriately.

“The election that commenced on Feb. 8 was set aside because the National Labor Relations Board found the Employer interfered with the employees’ exercise of a free and reasoned choice, by creating the appearance of irregularity in the election procedure, due to issues surrounding the installation of a mailbox outside the main entrance and by improperly polling employees’ support during mandatory meetings,” the decision read.

The decision will require the vote to be taken a second time, but a date has not been set for the second vote. Many with the RWDSU believe that the second vote will lead to the unionization of the Bessemer center. Stuart Appelbaum, President of the RWDSU, has also claimed that he has met and talked with several workers who said they had been “deceived” when they voted the first time.

RWDSU, a self-professedly progressive organization, has been pushing for unionization in Amazon facilities, especially the fulfillment center in Bessemer. The union has repeatedly condemned what they perceive as immoral labor requirements at Amazon and has said a union as the only viable solution. 

Appelbaum gave an immediate reaction applauding the labor board’s decision.

“Today’s decision confirms what we were saying all along – that Amazon’s intimidation and interference prevented workers from having a fair say in whether they wanted a union in their workplace – and as the Regional Director has indicated, that is both unacceptable and illegal,” Appelbaum said. “Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union.”

Officials of RWDSU have stated that they will have boots on the ground in Bessemer, campaigning and talking to Amazon employees to convince them of the benefits of unionizing.

In the lead-up to the election, Amazon officials clarified that they did not recommend their employees unionize. Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in a statement that the location of the postal box was meant for the convenience of Amazon employees.

“Our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they overwhelmingly chose not to join the R.W.D.S.U. earlier this year,” Nantel said. “It’s disappointing that the N.L.R.B. has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count. As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees.”

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