Amazon breaks law in Alabama, challenges vote in Staten Island
At left: The victorious workers of the Amazon Labor Union at JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island. At right: Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos. | AP photos

The inconclusive union authorization vote at the giant Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., has drawn flak—to be precise, formal unfair labor practices objections—from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Meanwhile, the monster retailer, warehouse, and distributor filed its own ULP complaints about the independent Amazon Labor Union’s win at the firm’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, N.Y.

But as far as one labor law expert, Service Employees 32BJ Associate General Counsel Andrew Strom, is concerned, most of the company’s Staten Island objections are frivolous. The worker-organized ALU won the Staten Island vote, 2,654-2,131, in an almost 60% turnout.

Writing in Harvard Law School’s On Labor blog, Strom said Amazon wants to tie up the Staten Island outcome for up to two years before the National Labor Relations Board and in federal courts. And that’s a big problem with U.S. labor law, he adds.

Amazon hopes “that even if they can’t convince the NLRB, they may draw a panel of sympathetic Trump appointees at the (U.S.) Circuit Court and convince the court to set aside the union victory,” he said.

“But, even if the legal arguments fail, Amazon still wins because merely by filing objections and refusing to bargain, it can force ALU to wait two years just to get to the bargaining table.”

The Amazon Staten Island vote is important to workers nationwide for several reasons. The most notable one is that it’s a grassroots movement started and controlled by workers themselves, without an international union involved and with the deliberate decision to not seek political support or nationalize the cause.

And it’s also a predominantly youthful movement—something federal data shows organized labor needs. And both it and Bessemer are jousting with a leader of the corporate capitalist class, Amazon majority owner Jeff Bezos, one of the three richest people in the U.S.

Meanwhile, at Bessemer, RWDSU trailed in the March 31 tally from workers at the BH1 warehouse, 875-993, but there were 416 challenged ballots. Whether, how many, and which ballots the NLRB decides to open and count will determine the outcome. Turnout was 37%.

The Amazon Bessemer campaign is an important bellwether for the U.S. labor movement and its campaign to break through and organize workers in the union-hostile South, where bosses often use the race card to divide workers. And in Bessemer, as elsewhere, right-wing politicians sided with the company.

Amazon also ran a vicious union-busting campaign—so much so that RWDSU previously challenged the legality of a common corporate excess which Amazon exploited: Nasty and stacked “captive audience meetings,” complete with disciplining workers who don’t attend, not just in Bessemer but nationwide.

The Bessemer Amazon workers “endured a needlessly long and aggressive fight to unionize their workplace, with Amazon doing everything it can to spread misinformation and deceive workers,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said.

“The company violated the law in the first election, and did so again in this re-run election, without any doubt. We will continue to hold Amazon accountable and ensure workers’ voices are heard.” RWDSU’s objections this time “include countless attempts to intimidate workers, even going so far as to terminate and suspend workers who supported the union.

“Amazon’s behavior must not go unchallenged, and workers in Bessemer must have their rights protected. We urge the NLRB to…ensure no company, not even with the bottomless pockets of Amazon, is allowed to act above the law.”

The captive audience meetings are the base for several of RWDSU’s 25 labor law-breaking charges—formally called unfair labor practices–against Amazon at Bessemer.

It again wants NLRB Regional Director Lisa Henderson, based in Atlanta, to rule on whether Amazon broke labor law enough by “creating an atmosphere of confusion, coercion and fear of reprisals” to skew this election, too, and toss it.

This time, RWDSU said, the firm told one worker it would close Bessemer if the union won. That threat is illegal under labor law.

And RWDSU reported Amazon’s captive audience meetings there included: Ejecting pro-union workers from the mandatory sessions, unlawfully suspending a worker who campaigned for RWDSU during one meeting and illegally threatening or warning another pro-union campaigner. It also illegally demanded the name of a worker who wore a union button in a break room—which is neutral territory under labor law—and illegally threatened to fire another pro-union worker who debated the union with a colleague.

Amazon also illegally “created an impression of surveillance” and actually spied on the workers and even trailed organizers who visited workers’ homes, RWDSU said.

By contrast, Amazon’s frivolous objections to the Staten Island election, according to Strom, included one that, in his words, “ALU told workers ‘It would not charge dues unless and until it secured higher wages in contract negotiations with Amazon.’

“According to Amazon, this interfered with the election because it ‘deprived Amazon of the ability to effectively respond and denied employees the opportunity to assess the credibility of the promise,’” he reported.  “In other words, Amazon wanted to run the standard ‘Dues, dues, dues’ campaign, but was flummoxed by ALU’s assurance to workers that they would pay dues only once they secured a wage increase.”


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 tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.