Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama may get a second chance to form the company’s first union, after a US labor board official recommended a rerun of a landmark vote that failed to pass in April.
An official at the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined Amazon’s tactics against unionization tainted the election sufficiently to warrant a do-over. Workers had voted by a margin of 2-1 not to form a union in what was viewed as a huge blow to labor advocates seeking to organize Amazon, the second-largest employer in the country.
In the coming weeks, a regional director for the NLRB will decide whether to order the rerun based on this recommendation, according to an official with the board who spoke with Reuters on Monday and asked not to be named. Amazon said it planned to appeal.
“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,” Amazon said in a statement.
The company has long come under fire for its working conditions, including not allowing warehouse workers sufficient bathroom breaks, putting them in danger of frequent injury, and forcing them to spend hours on foot. Its delivery drivers have also complained of labor concerns, including video surveillance of their every move and lack of bathroom access.
The union at the center of the vote, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), had said Amazon had illegally threatened staff with reduced benefits and compromised the election’s integrity via a ballot collection box it secured outside the warehouse.
Specifically, the RWDSU argued Amazon had improperly influenced voting by pressuring employees to drop ballots in the mailbox while they were in view of warehouse cameras, creating a perception of surveillance. Amazon also improperly adorned a tent surrounding the mailbox with messaging related to its anti-union campaign, the RWDSU said.
Amazon has said the mailbox was installed to give nearly 6,000 eligible voters a convenient option for returning their ballots and that the tent shielded workers from cameras, which predated the collection box.
US labor law forbids companies from threatening to cut benefits or close facilities when workers support a union. The law also prohibits them from spying on organizing activities or leaving employees with the impression they are under surveillance.
Still, employers such as Amazon have wide legal latitude to campaign aggressively, including by requiring employees to attend mandatory meetings that cast unions in a negative light. Amazon held such meetings, sent text messages to employees and even displayed campaign literature in at least one of the Alabama warehouse’s restroom stalls.
The recommendation casts doubt on Amazon’s victory over the unionizing effort, a campaign that drew support from lawmakers including Senator Bernie Sanders, who visited the warehouse.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the largest unions in the US, voted in June on a landmark resolution to make its highest priority helping Amazon workers – of which there are 1.3m in the US – achieve a union contract.
“Amazon workers are calling for safer and better working conditions,” said the project’s director at the time, “and with today’s resolution, we are activating the full force of our union to support them.”
Reuters contributed reporting