Alabama Amazon workers get a second chance March 28 to unionize
Todd McInturf / via AP

BESSEMER, Ala.—The National Labor Relations Board set dates for the rerun vote at Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., warehouse, where the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union lost last year in an election skewed by massive company labor law-breaking. Ballots will be mailed February 4 and counted March 28.

The agency’s Birmingham regional office, which covers Bessemer, will mail out ballots to all workers on the warehouse payroll on January 8, or to those who toiled there an average of at least four hours a week for the 13 weeks before that date.

RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said the agency’s notice doesn’t prevent the monster retailer and distributor from skewing this vote, too.

In the last election, RWDSU lost after Amazon intimidated workers and convinced the U.S. Postal Service to put a big gray mail collection box under an Amazon-emblazoned tent in the company’s parking lot right outside the main entrance to the warehouse, which is the size of several football fields. After Amazon forced enlargement of the electorate, a common employer tactic, some 1,600 workers were eligible to vote.

The big mailbox “created the appearance of irregularity” in the voting, the board’s notice said. So did Amazon’s illegal polling of workers’ views during “mandatory”—captive audience—meetings. Both “tainted the outcome” and made a fair election impossible, Appelbaum said.

“We are deeply concerned the decision fails to adequately prevent Amazon from continuing its objectionable behavior in a new election. We proposed to the NLRB a number of remedies that could have made the process fairer to workers,” he added, but the board didn’t include them in the election notice. Measures forbidding a repeat of tactics like the placement of the mailbox, for example, were not included in the NLRB  notice

“Workers’ voices can and must be heard fairly, unencumbered by Amazon’s limitless power to control what must be a fair and free election, and we will continue to hold them accountable for their actions,” Appelbaum vowed.

A banner encouraging workers to vote in labor balloting is shown at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., in March 2021. | Jay Reeves / AP

Since that first vote, the NLRB also ordered Amazon to post a notice at all its warehouses and other facilities nationwide admitting it broke labor laws by other anti-union tactics—banning conversations in break rooms, for example—and promising not to do so again. The board did not fine Amazon for those violations, which occurred in Chicago.

The first Amazon Bessemer workers’ vote drew national attention. It symbolizes union efforts to crack the hostile South and turned into a civil rights and political cause. Most Amazon Bessemer workers, like the city, are Black. And Democratic President Joe Biden, a strong union supporter, openly backed RWDSU’s organizing drive at Amazon.

Workers who toiled for Amazon before the first vote, but don’t now, are not eligible to vote this time. That’s important because Amazon has high turnover nationwide, forcing RWDSU’s organizers and worker activists to almost start from scratch. Analysts say such churn is part of Amazon’s business plan to produce high profits.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

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