Amazon’s victory over the largest labor drive in company history may be in jeopardy. On August 3, 2021, the NLRB released a hearing officer’s report on objections, finding that Amazon allegedly violated labor laws during the election period. As a result, the hearing officer recommended that the election results be set aside and a new election held.
The recommendation strikes a serious blow to Amazon, which enjoyed a decidedly lopsided victory in the election earlier this year. As this blog reported in April 2021, 1,798 Amazon employees voted against the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) while only 738 voted for the RWDSU. Now, this decisive victory is being attributed to labor law violations, giving RWDSU the chance at a “do-over.”
Specifically, the hearing officer’s report found that Amazon’s efforts to have the U.S. Postal Service install a mailbox outside of its Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center usurped the NLRB’s role in administering union elections and prevented a fair vote. Further, the presence of security cameras near the mailbox site gave the impression that the employees were under surveillance, according to the hearing officer. The hearing officer also found that Amazon distributed “vote no” pins and other anti-organizing paraphernalia to employees while in the presence of managers and supervisors, creating a coercive environment.
The hearing officer’s report is only the first step in resolving the RWDSU’s objections to the April 2021 election. The next step is for the NLRB’s regional director to adopt or reject the report. After the regional director makes a determination, either party can appeal to the NLRB. The NLRB will soon change majority, with a period of Democratic control anticipated to begin this fall.
Stuart Appelbaum, President of RWDSU, was neither shy nor slow in releasing a statement on the matter: “Throughout the NLRB hearing, we heard compelling evidence how Amazon tried to illegally interfere with and intimidate workers as they sought to exercise their right to form a union. We support the hearing officer’s recommendation that the NLRB set aside the election results and direct a new election…Amazon’s behavior throughout the election process was despicable. Amazon cheated, they got caught, and they are being held accountable.”
Maria Boschetti, an Amazon spokesperson, countered in an emailed statement that the company plans to appeal the report. Boschetti explained, “Our employees had a chance to be heard during a noisy time when all types of voices were weighing into the national debate, and at the end of the day, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of a direct connection with their managers and the company.”
Boschetti is right to note the national attention the election received. As this blog reported in April, RWDSU’s efforts received bipartisan support from President Joe Biden (D), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). National attention will likely be directed to Amazon’s appeal and, if it occurs, the second election.
This blog previously noted that the results of the April 2021 election suggested that successful union organizing, particularly in large unions with public and political support, is not a foregone conclusion. Of course, this is still the case. However, labor professionals would do well to keep their eyes on the Amazon-RWDSU saga. It will likely provide instructive examples of how employer actions during organizing campaigns can later be found to have improperly affected the results.