The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union on Monday formally accused Amazon of illegal and coercive activity in the weeks preceding the union’s unsuccessful campaign to organize warehouse workers in Bessemer, Ala.
In a series of 23 specific objections posted to the federal National Labor Relations Board docket (read in full below), the RWDSU broadly claimed that Amazon actively sought to make voting logistically difficult and that the company intimidated employees into declining to cast ballots in the recent election to join the union.
Amazon’s Bessemer fulfillment center workers eventually declined union representation by a large margin, with 1,798 employees against union representation and 738 in favor.
“We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote,” RWDSU President Stuart Applebaum said in a statement.
“Amazon knew full well that unless they did everything they possibly could, even illegal activity, their workers would have continued supporting the union.”
The NLRB will review the objection and make a ruling on whether or not the election stands. That decision can be appealed in federal court.
Among the objections filed late Friday and posted Monday with the NLRB:
“During the critical period before the due date for receipt of mail ballots and throughout the election, the Employer had a collection box installed in the employee parking lot….(which) created the impression that the collection box was a polling location and that the Employer had control over the conduct of the mail ballot election.”
“During the critical period and throughout the election, the Employer created the impression of surveillance regarding the collection box installed in the employee parking lot. The Employer maintains security cameras in the employee parking lot and such cameras could record the employees entering and exiting the tent erected around the collection box to cast ballots, i.e., to engage in protected activity.”
“During the critical period before the election, the Employer, by and through its agents, unlawfully threatened employees with the loss of business at the warehouse/fulfillment center if employees voted for the Union, thereby interfering with their rights to a free and fair election unmarred by coercion, intimidation and/or undue influence.”
“During the critical period, the Employer’s agents removed employees from captive audience meetings who asked questions about the information presented. The agents would request the employee to come forward, have them identified and them removed from the meeting in the presence of hundreds of other employees thereby interfering with and/or chilling the right of employees to freely discuss issues related to the union organizing campaign and/or the terms and conditions of employment.”
Amazon spokeswoman Heather Knox said union organizers care more about the union’s agenda than Amazon employees.
“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,” she said in a statement.
Additionally, in a lengthy blog post published immediately after the April 9 vote count, the company defended its role in opposing the union campaign.
“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true,” said the statement posted to the company’s blog. “Our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union.”
At issue in Bessemer and other fulfillment centers wasn’t primarily Amazon’s $15-an-hour pay rate but rather the reports of unreasonable workloads, the lack of sufficient lunch and bathroom breaks, and employee workplace tracking that some workers found oppressive. RWSDU organizers often cited Amazon’s industry-worst employee turnover rate as evidence of lousy working conditions.
But the majority of the 3,200 workers who voted were not convinced. In its statement, Amazon conceded that “we’re not perfect,” but insisted that the company does listen to its employees and makes workplace improvements regularly. “Our employees have seen tremendous benefit from what we offer and we think every American family deserves the same,” noted the statement.
In his recent letter to Amazon shareholders, outgoing CEO and company founder Jeff Bezos acknowledged the public-image damage the union election campaign created.
“Does your Chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer? No, he doesn’t. I think we need to do a better job for our employees,” Bezos wrote on April 15.
“While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees – a vision for their success.”
Here is the list of all the specific objections:
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