RWDSU Moves to Contest Amazon Union Election

The RWDSU is confronting the outcome of the union election this month that resulted in a victory for Amazon.

The union said Monday that it had filed objections to the National Labor Relations Board, the agency that enforces workers’ collective bargaining rights and oversees the union election process. The objections filed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union reiterate its allegations against Amazon of interfering with workers’ voting process. About 3,215 workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., plant, known as BHM1, had voted in the election, and the e-commerce retailer prevailed in the count by over a 2-to-1 margin in a victory that was widely seen as a blow to the labor movement nationwide. 

The union said it filed some 23 objections, including around allegations that Amazon communicated with employees that voting for the union could jeopardize the facility, or risk their “pay rate” and benefits.  

“After enduring an intensive anti-union campaign designed by Amazon to intimidate and manipulate, workers are seeking the chance to finally have a right to fair representation, a seat at the table and a real chance to fix the litany of issues that workers at Amazon have faced for far too long,” the union said in its statement. 

Amazon has issued a response contesting the allegations and seeking to emphasize the results of the election. 

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“The fact is that less than 16 percent of employees at BHM1 voted to join a union,” an Amazon representative said in a statement. “Rather than accepting these employees’ choice, the union seems determined to continue misrepresenting the facts in order to drive its own agenda. We look forward to the next steps in the legal process.”

The next steps in the case are likely to involve the NLRB regional director in the case issuing a notice of hearing in the coming weeks. The hearing would be meant to adjudicate issues that the union would be able to support with evidence, and the union would have to present witnesses and documents to support its claims.

Such a hearing would also provide Amazon the opportunity to cross examine the union’s evidence and testimony, and allow Amazon to present its own case on whether it did the activities it is being accused of, and, if so, whether those activities were actually violations of labor law procedures. 

The board tends to seriously consider objections about employers’ statements to staff about potential layoffs or plant closings as a consequence of unionization, experts said. 

“The [NLRB] would order a new election if they felt that the workers were not able to exercise their right free of coercion,” said Ellen Dichner, distinguished lecturer at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, who had previously served as chief counsel to the former NLRB chairman. 

“I mean, think about it, if you’re a worker who’s going to vote, and your employer tells you, ‘If the union wins, [your job is at risk],’ what more do you have to say to get someone to vote the other way?” she said.  

If the NLRB eventually decides not to go so far as to order a rerun election, it could potentially still impose other penalties, though those usually tend to be along the lines of instructing employers to put up signs in the workplace informing workers of their rights. 

In addition to the objections to the NLRB, the union could potentially also file what are known as unfair labor practice charges, to challenge its conduct, experts said. 

“This is probably not the full extent of the legal process, this is just the beginning,” said Rebecca Kolins Givan, associate professor in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. “These election objections had to be filed by a shorter deadline, so they’re just the first stage, and we can expect more to come.” 

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