the union campaign in Bessemer in Amazon, Alabama, the fulfillment center that ended with a majority of workers voting against unionization may well have a second chance. A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) official is now calling for re-election, citing Amazon’s misconduct in the first. But it is not yet certain that this re-election will happen, and if it does, it is even less certain that the result will go in the direction of the union.
Kerstin Meyers, the NLRB official who oversaw the hearing of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores Union (RWDSU) objections to the election, recommended on Monday that the results, which were massively in favor of Amazon, be put aside and a new election be organized. (RWDSU was the union that Amazon workers would have joined whether the vote was in favor of unionizing.) Although she rejected some of the union’s objections, Meyers found that others – almost all centered on Amazon installing a mailbox on the field of the warehouse – were sufficient to warrant another vote.
The mailbox in question was a gray box with several compartments placed in the parking lot of the distribution center. Amazon encouraged employees to use this mailbox to send their votes. Amazon had aggressively pushed the U.S. Postal Service to approve and install the mailbox in time for the union vote. Some workers were not happy about the mailbox at the time, and the union made it a central point of its objections to the vote.
Meyers found that employees had reason to believe that Amazon was monitoring them and controlling the mailbox, which could have influenced how and if they voted.
“I found it was the overall mailbox effect that affected the election results,” Meyers wrote. “This is all the circumstances created by the installation of the mailbox in the absence of any authorization from the [NLRB] … the employer’s conduct herein has so undermined the laboratory conditions necessary to ensure a free and fair election [that] a new election is necessary.
The only non-mailbox objection Meyers agreed to was Amazon’s distribution of anti-union materials in the presence of executives at mandatory meetings, when employees would have felt pressured to accept them.
Although a new vote is only a recommendation for now, RWDSU is optimistic that it will lead to new elections and another chance to unionize.
“We support the hearing officer’s recommendation that the NLRB overturn the election results and hold a new election,” RWDSU Chairman Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement. “Amazon’s behavior throughout the electoral process was despicable. Amazon cheated, they got caught and they are held responsible. “
So what happens next? The recommendation is directed to the NLRB Regional Director, who will review any objections filed by either party and render a decision, likely within the next few weeks. Typically, the Regional Director’s decision follows the officer’s recommendation. Assuming that’s the case here, Amazon will then have the option of asking the NLRB board of directors in Washington, DC to review that decision and request a suspension of the second election, which the company should do.
“Our employees … need to be heard first, and we plan to appeal for that to happen,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.
(Likewise, in the unlikely event that the principal decides not to hold a new election, RWDSU may appeal to the NLRB board in DC for a review.)
Either review will likely be heard by a Democratic majority board. Currently, the board of directors is majority Republican with three people appointed by Trump and two Democrats, but the term of one of those Republican members expires on August 27, when President Biden can replace him with a Democrat. This bodes well for the union but, again, it is not a guarantee. Even the Republican-majority board, which was seen as management-friendly and anti-union, spoke out against Amazon ahead of the first election, deny his request to vote in person amid the pandemic for obvious security reasons.
Simply put, the NLRB agent recommendation means there’s a good chance Bessemer will have a second election, and we’ll know for sure if that’s the case in the coming months. But then the RWDSU has to win this election, which is much less likely. Amazon won the first election, 1,798 votes to 738, with 505 additional ballots that were never counted. With nearly 6,000 workers eligible to vote, that means about half of them did not vote at all. Maybe they were afraid to vote because of Amazon’s tactics, or maybe they just weren’t interested in one way or another.
The union therefore still has to gain a lot of employees. These employees may not be the same as those who voted in the first election, given the time that has passed and the centre’s high turnover rate. They may view the union campaign as a losing battle, given the unbalanced results of the first election and the fact that Amazon’s few other attempts to organize in the United States have failed. Even those who support the union can be tired of fighting.
Bessemer is still an uphill battle for RWDSU. But this hill is not as steep as it was two days ago. And even if RWDSU fails a second time around, it doesn’t look like Amazon’s organizing effort is over. Last June, the Teamsters voted to create an Amazon division dedicated to organizing Amazon workers across the country. Maybe Amazon is also in an uphill battle.