BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—With workers at Amazon’s facility in Bessemer, Alabama casting their ballots in the rerun vote on union representation, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union on Feb. 22 formally accused the company of illegally interfering with the election.
The RWDSU filed three unfair-labor-practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. It charged that Amazon tore down union flyers posted in break rooms and other non-work areas, while leaving antiunion messages from the company up; instituted a new rule barring workers from being in the facility more than 30 minutes before or after their shifts; and forced workers to attend “captive-audience meetings,” where they’re required to listen to anti-union propaganda.
“All the charges highlight examples of Amazon’s continued efforts to undermine and suppress workers’ right to a free and fair election,” the union said in a statement.
Workers at the Bessemer warehouse and shipping center voted against the RWDSU last year by a margin of more than two to one, but the NLRB ordered a revote last November. It ruled that Amazon had illegally interfered with the original election by placing a mailbox for ballots inside a tent that was surrounded by surveillance cameras and had a banner that read “speak for yourself,” the company’s antiunion slogan.
The mail-in vote began Feb. 4. Ballots must be received by Mar. 25, and the vote count will begin Mar. 28. More than 6,000 workers are in the bargaining unit.
The RWDSU is seeking to have the NLRB overturn its current precedent that captive-audience meetings are legal. It notes that as Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act guarantees workers the right to join labor organizations and engage in “concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining,” it also guarantees the right “to refrain from any or all such activities,” except as required by a collective-bargaining agreement. Captive-audience meetings, the union argues, are coercive and violate workers’ rights not to participate.
“The irony is, these meetings are the longest I’ve ever gotten to sit at work,” Roger Wyatt, a member of the BAmazon Union Worker Organizing Committee, said in a statement released by the RWDSU. “If it’s impossible to allow me adequate break and bathroom time, why is it possible, let alone mandatory, for me to sit through hours of anti-union trainings?”
He said being forced to sit through the meetings was “degrading” and that “Amazon treated us like mindless robots, downloading misinformation to us.”
The 30-minute rule, an RWDSU spokesperson told LaborPress, interferes with union activity because, for example, it would prevent a night-shift worker from coming to a union meeting held during the day shift, or someone putting up union flyers or trying to have conversations about the union after they’ve clocked out.
Amazon says it is “confident” its teams have “fully complied with the law.”
“Our focus remains on working directly with our team to make Amazon a great place to work,” an Amazon spokesperson told LaborPress. “If the union vote passes, it will impact everyone at the site, which is why we host regular informational sessions and provide employees the opportunity to ask questions and learn about what this could mean for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon.”
The RWDSU complaint against captive-audience meetings was inspired by a memo NLRB General Counsel Jennifer A. Abruzzo sent to regional offices in September 2021, instructing them to request “the full panoply of remedies available to ensure that victims of unlawful conduct are made whole for losses suffered as a result of unfair labor practices.”
It said that when employers interfere with union-organizing drives, regional offices should “in all appropriate cases” seek remedies that enhance union access to workers. That, it said, would include “equal time” to present their case to workers who’d had to attend a captive-audience meeting, and “reasonable access to an employer’s bulletin boards and all places where notices to employees are customarily posted.”
Several unions have filed challenges to the legality of captive-audience meetings, the RWDSU spokesperson said, but Bessemer is the largest bargaining unit to do so. The main issue, she added, is the “mandatory aspect.”