ATLANTA, Ga.—Saying that “the evidence demonstrates” Amazon interfered with the “conditions necessary to conduct a fair election,” a National Labor Relations Board hearing officer recommended Aug. 2 that her boss should order a new union election to be held at the company’s distribution center in Bessemer, Alabama.
Kerstin Meyers, a hearing officer at the NLRB’s regional office in Atlanta, sustained seven of the 22 objections the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union filed against the vote held last February and March, in which workers at the facility rejected union representation by a margin of more than 2 to 1. She recommended that the NLRB’s regional director in Atlanta void that election.
The vote went 1,798 to 738 against representation by the RWDSU. More than 2,000 Bessemer workers had signed union-authorization cards, but support waned after Amazon’s campaign, which included multiple “mandatory hour-long anti-union lectures,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum told reporters after the results were released April 9.
Six of the RWDSU objections Meyers sustained had to do with a drop box Amazon got the U.S. Postal Service to set up by the facility’s main entrance for workers to mail in their ballots. The union charged that the box was installed without permission from the NLRB and created the impression that Amazon was conducting the election; that it was surrounded by surveillance cameras; and that the company engaged in unlawful electioneering by posting a banner that said, “speak for yourself, mail your ballot here” on the tent surrounding it.
Amazon, Meyers’ report said, had used “speak for yourself” as an anti-union slogan, and it also encouraged workers to use the box by spreading rumors that union organizers had been offering to fill out their ballots.
“Regardless of whether the Employer succeeded in defeating the Union in a landslide,” she concluded, its conduct “so undermined the laboratory conditions necessary to ensure a free and fair election, a re-run election is necessary.” More than 2,000 eligible employees did not vote in the election, she added, enough to affect the results, and it was “at the very least” possible that Amazon’s misconduct had influenced some of them.
“Throughout the NLRB hearing, we heard compelling evidence how Amazon tried to illegally interfere with and intimidate workers as they sought to exercise their right to form a union,” Appelbaum said in a statement. “The question of whether or not to have a union is supposed to be the workers’ decision and not the employer’s. Amazon’s behavior throughout the election process was despicable. Amazon cheated, they got caught, and they are being held accountable.”
The other allegation Meyers sustained was that the company “engaged in an extensive campaign of polling employees and interrogating employees regarding their support for the Union.”Amazon acted illegally, she held, when it put out “vote no” pins and signs at captive-audience meetings, with a company representative watching to see who did or didn’t pick them up.
“An employer cannot allow its agents to distribute campaign paraphernalia in a manner that pressures employees to make an observable choice,” she wrote. It was unlikely that Amazon actually tracked that, she explained, but that was outweighed by that “virtually all of the bargaining unit employees were subjected to the misconduct.”
She dismissed nine of the other 15 objections the RWDSU filed in April, including its contention that Amazon had illegally threatened that workers would lose pay and benefits if they voted for the union. Meyers said that was part of the risk of collective bargaining. The RWDSU asked to withdraw the other six.
Both parties have until Aug. 16 to file objections to the hearing officer’s recommendation. If acting Atlanta regional director Lisa Henderson accepts the recommendation, that would include ordering a revote.
That process is expected to take several weeks, the NLRB’s press office said.
Amazon said it planned to appeal if a revote is ordered. “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,” it said in a statement. “Their voice should be heard above all else.”
Amazon’s anti-union campaign, the NLRB report said, began in early January, four weeks before voting began. It included captive-audience meetings held 18 hours a day, six days a week, to reach all 6,000 workers in the bargaining unit; one-on-one meetings with employees after the voting began; frequent texts and emails; and “installments,” messages posted in bathroom stalls for workers to see every time they sat on the toilet.
Amazon workers, Applebaum told reporters in April, “are used to having every motion they make surveilled.”