In the poor, majority-black town of Bessemer, Alabama, the fight to unionize the area’s largest employer – an Amazon warehouse employing 6,000 people – has become part of the Movement for Black Lives. Home to a longstanding militant union tradition, two nearby coal mines have also gone on strike recently.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) has filed its objections to Amazon’s practices during a union drive in Bessemer earlier this year, in a bid to convince the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to void the vote.
The complaint lodged on Friday names 23 different unfair labor practices the union alleges Amazon perpetrated during the voting period of between February 8 and March 29, which RWDSU says unfairly and illegally influenced the outcome of the vote in the company’s favor.
The complaints include threats of mass layoffs if the workers unionized; threatening loss of pay and benefits by workers; intimidation tactics like “mandatory captive-audience trainings” intended to indoctrinate the workers against unionizing; and electioneering by way of getting a collection box illegally installed outside the Bessemer distribution facility.
According to More Perfect Union, this mailbox was likely responsible for two huge batches of predominantly “no” votes delivered to the NLRB office in Birmingham in mid-February. Organizers had long warned that the illegal box’s presence on the Amazon campus was an additional pressure on workers to vote against the union by making them feel they were being watched by Amazon, which is notorious for monitoring every movement and activity of its workforce during their shifts.
Earlier this month, the outlet received via Freedom of Information Act requests a set of heavily redacted emails between the US Postal Service and Amazon – the USPS’ largest corporate customer – showing how the company put heavy pressure on them to install the box. These revelations proved the USPS had previously lied about placing the box on the Amazon campus being their idea, and not Amazon’s.
However, accusations against Amazon aren’t just limited to these: Sputnik has also reported on tactics such as Amazon placing its lowest-rung workers on a separate internal network that limits their lateral communication; changing the stop light timers to deny organizers time to talk to employees; and everyday texts urging workers to vote “no.” The company also hired union-busting agents to strategize with them to work against the union drive.
As a result of this, the union said, employees were denied the “free and uncoerced exercise of choice” in casting their votes. At least 1,798 workers voted “no” out of 3,215 who voted, with just 738 “yet” votes cast – the remainder were not counted because they wouldn’t have changed the outcome. However, 3,215 is just 55% of the 5,805 Bessemer workers who were eligible to vote, meaning almost half of the facility didn’t even cast a ballot.
“Working people deserve better than the way Amazon has conducted itself during this campaign,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said after the results were announced on April 9. “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.”
However, according to Amazon, the results were an accurate democratic expression of their employees’ thoughts on joining a labor union.
“The fact is that less than 16% of employees at BHM1 voted to join a union,” Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox told Reuters on Monday. “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 NLRB has 15 business days since the results were announced to set a hearing on the disputed voting results, which is April 30, according to the Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. If RWDSU is successful, the NLRB will void the results and allow a new vote to be held.