A US labour official has ordered a rerun of the vote for unionisation at an Amazon distribution centre in Alabama, saying the ecommerce giant had hijacked the process.
Amazon won the closely watched vote in April by 1,798 votes to 738. But the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) immediately filed a complaint accusing the company of illegal misconduct in the run-up to the vote.
It was the first union ballot to be held at one of the company’s facilities in the US, and drew international attention.
A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board on Monday issued a notice that a second election should be held, although no timeline was set for it to take place.
Amazon has the option to request a review of the decision with the NLRB in Washington. It can also request a stay that would halt the vote from proceeding while the merits of the regional decision are considered by the national board.
The company would not say on Monday if it planned to pursue either of those options, but said it was unhappy with the decision.
“Our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they overwhelmingly chose not to join the RWDSU earlier this year,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a written statement.
“It’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count. As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees.”
Nantel said Amazon had made efforts to increase pay and improve safety, moves that she said would have been “harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle”.
The first election was conducted via mail because of concerns over the spread of Covid-19, despite Amazon’s efforts to force an in-person ballot.
Monday’s ruling followed the recommendation of a hearing officer in August, who suggested Amazon prevented a “fair election” by using union-busting techniques.
Her report detailed how the company held “captive audience meetings” with employees in small groups, logging their attendance and encouraging workers to pick up “vote no” badges and other items.
In particular, the hearing officer said, the installation of a special mailbox to collect votes created a sense that workers were being monitored by the company via security cameras.
The regional officer’s ruling concurred, saying: “By installing a postal mailbox at the main employee entrance, the employer essentially hijacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process.
“This dangerous and improper message to employees destroys trust in the board’s processes and in the credibility of the election results.”
It said the captive meetings could constitute improper polling of employees, who “could reasonably perceive that the employer tried to discern their support for or against the union based on whether they picked up the paraphernalia”.
RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum said the decision proved its allegations that Amazon’s actions were “unacceptable and illegal”.
“Today’s decision confirms what we were saying all along — that Amazon’s intimidation and interference prevented workers from having a fair say in whether they wanted a union in their workplace,” he said.
“Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union.”