RWDSU is Fighting the Outcome over Unfair Labor Practices by Amazon
Heroic Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, came together to claim their right to form a union, but antiquated federal labor law and a virulently anti-union company stood in their way. We all benefit from broad and accessible union membership. Organizing a union should not be a trial by combat. The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act will make it easier for working people to organize if we so choose.
Here’s how the campaign unfolded in Bessemer, Alabama, and how it would be different under the PRO Act.
Before Organizing Started—Firings and Surveillance:
- Amazon workers were aware of the company’s anti-union position.
- Amazon has fired workers for union activity in New York and Virginia, and faced no financial penalties. There are none under current labor law.
- Amazon’s use of high-tech surveillance of workers’ organizing interests were widely reported. Amazon faced no penalties for this activity.
Under the PRO Act:
- Workers who were fired would have had access to double damages for lost wages, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would be required to use the courts to get these workers their jobs back quickly.
- Amazon would have to inform employees about their rights under the law, like other federally guaranteed rights.
- Unions would likely use labor law’s “unfair labor practice charge” system more vigorously because there would be meaningful penalties.
- Unions and employees would have the option of going to court to remedy unlawful action.
When Workers Organized in Alabama:
- The Amazon campaign moved rapidly, driven by a groundswell of worker support, because most organizers understand speed is one of the only shields against illegal, but unpunished, employer violations of labor law.
- Workers met with organizers clandestinely because they were very fearful of losing their jobs.
- A relatively small number of workers have become the public face of the campaign because the remedies for workers being illegally fired for union activity are ineffective. Workers being forced to silence themselves made it easier for Amazon to try to paint the union as an outside entity rather than a support for a genuine, new organization of working people.
- Workers filed a petition to certify their union with the NLRB on Nov. 20, 2020, and immediately Amazon used legal maneuvers to attempt to have the petition thrown out.
- In order to move forward with an election and accommodate Amazon, the union consented to thousands of seasonal workers, many of whom no longer worked in the facility, being included in the proposed bargaining unit and the representation election.
Bad News for Organized Labor: Vote Count at Amazon Bessemer Warehouse Going Against Union
Amazon Threw Out Hundreds of Ballots
After more than a week of scrutinizing ballots and signatures, Amazon was able to successfully throw out hundreds of ballots, possibly padding its current lead.
“There remain hundreds of challenged ballots mostly by the employer that will need to be addressed after the public count,” the RWDSU said in a statement today. “As the ballot envelopes are opened and the ballots are counted there’s a possibility that more issues could impact the final results.” (BDS-LA Note: RWDSU is the Retail, Wholesale & Department Store workers Union, which has long had a commitment to organizing the unorganized.)
FOIA: Amazon Pressured Postal Service to Put Postal Box In Front of Amazon Entrance
Whatever may occur in the union vote today, RWDSU has already indicated they plan to challenge the union vote for a variety of illegal intimidation tactics.
New FOIA documents released by The Washington Post show Amazon pressured the U.S. Postal Service to install a mailbox directly in front of the warehouse entrance.
“We have not heard anything back on the install of this collection box,” a postal service account manager wrote to Alabama colleagues on Jan. 14 in an email obtained via FOIA by The Washington Post. “Amazon is reaching out again to me today about the status as they wanted to move quickly on this.”
RWDSU contends that managers would routinely encourage workers to fill out their ballots and cast them directly in front of them.
The union has alleged that this is illegal intimidation and will likely appeal any vote to the National Labor Relations Board.
Amazon Workers in Chicago Stage Wildcat Strike
While the workers at Amazon in Alabama appear headed for defeat, they may have inspired a movement nationwide.
Yesterday, non-union workers at an Amazon warehouse in Chicago staged a walkout to demand better conditions.