Bessemer Union Officially Challenges Amazon Warehouse Vote

The union that attempted to organize an Amazon warehouse facility in Bessemer, Alabama alleges the company engaged in illegal anti-union activities.
April 19, 2021, 1:00pm
Union
Elijah Nouvelage via Getty

The Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) is formally challenging the results of the union vote at Amazon's Bessemer, Alabama warehouse, alleging that the retail giant owned by the world's richest man "prevented a free and uncoerced exercise of choice by the employees." In the objection filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the RWDSU asserts its objections are grounds to throw out the election results. The workers voted against unionization.

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"Working people deserve better than the way Amazon has conducted itself during this campaign," said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) in a statement. "We won’t rest until workers’ voices are heard fairly under the law. When they are, we believe they will be victorious in this historic and critical fight to unionize the first Amazon warehouse in the United States."

In a statement responding to the petition, Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox said, “The fact is that less than 16% 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.”

Amazon requested the United States Postal Service to install a collection box in a tent in the employee parking lot, the complaint alleges, even though the office overseeing the election said Amazon couldn't put a mailbox there. Amazon has said the mailbox was meant to make it easier to vote and only USPS had access to it, but the complaint says the location was known by employees to be under video surveillance and the company could see who entered and exited the tent, which also had an anti-union campaign message printed on one side.

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In addition, the complaint says Amazon told employees 75 percent of the unit at the warehouse would be laid off or the warehouse would close if they unionized, as well as threatening loss of benefits including health care. In captive audience meetings with employees, management "removed employees who asked questions," which the union alleges created a chilling effect on open debate about the organizing campaign.

Outside the facility, Amazon "pressured government officials" into changing the timing of the traffic light at the facility's main entrance, a key outreach location for union organizers.

As Motherboard has reported, Amazon had previously engaged in obstructing worker organizing, including hiring Pinkerton operatives to spy on warehouse workers in Europe and forming "social listening" teams dedicated to surveilling its workers' private social media groups. 

The challenge to the unionization vote, which failed by a three-to-one margin, does not come as a surprise. Officials from RWDSU said the day of the count they planned to challenge the results. Just as the attempt to unionize an Amazon warehouse was an uphill battle, throwing out the results and holding a new vote will be just as difficult.

Update: This article has been updated with a statement from Amazon.