Amazon used illegal intimidation tactics that prevented a “free and fair” vote over whether to unionize an Alabama warehouse earlier this month, according to the labor union leading the campaign.
The Seattle-based e-tailing giant, which on April 9 won the closely watched, hotly contested vote in Bessemer, Ala., had threatened beforehand to lay off employees at the facility and to shut it down altogether if workers voted to unionize, according to allegations filed with US labor regulators by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
The RWDSU filed a total of 23 objections with the National Relations Labor Board late Friday, claiming that Amazon “created an atmosphere of confusion, coercion and or fear of reprisals.”
The union, which is requesting a hearing with the NLRB to discuss its objections, said the results — in which workers voted not to unionize by a more than 2-to-1 margin, with 55 percent of employees at the facility casting votes — should be set aside because the online behemoth meddled in the voting process.
In a statement responding to the objections, Amazon said, “The fact is that less than 16 percent of employees at BHM1 voted to join a union. 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 objections could be the beginning of a lengthy process before the NLRB to determine whether the election results were fair. Each side can present evidence and challenge the allegations of the other party as well as the NLRB’s rulings.
The presence of a ballot box in the employee parking lot where security cameras were set up gave the appearance that “Amazon and not the NLRB” was controlling the mechanics of the election, RWDSU said in a statement. The union had objected to the use of the ballot box, which it said was used as an intimidation tactic.
“The employer created the impression that it was recording the identity of employees who voted through the security cameras in the employee parking lot that could record employees entering and exiting the tent around the collection box,” according to the objection.
The union, meanwhile, also accuses Amazon of moving employees who supported a labor contract into positions that limited their contact with co-workers during working hours. In addition, Amazon allegedly offered to “pay disgruntled or unhappy employees to leave” in what is called “the offer,” the union claims.
Amazon, according to the objection, also terminated a union supporter for passing out union cards in non-working areas at the warehouse. At the same time, Amazon sought to influence the vote by relaxing some of its workplace rules during the voting process, giving employees pay raises and giving away merchandise, the union said.
The months-long vote has attracted worldwide attention and was addressed by Amazon’s billionaire CEO Jeff Bezos in his letter to shareholders last week, in which he said the company can do better by its employees and vowed to personally take charge of an effort to make Amazon “earth’s best employer.”
In Bezos’ shareholder letter he acknowledged that Amazon has a workplace injury problem due to repetitive motions on the job that he would personally address in his new role as executive chairman of the company later this year.
But he disputed allegations against the company by workers and others that it does not allow enough time for bathroom and meal breaks are untrue.
“Employees are able to take informal breaks throughout their shifts to stretch, get water, use the restroom, or talk to a manager, all without impacting their performance. These informal work breaks are in addition to the 30-minute lunch and 30-minute break built into their normal schedule,” he said.