Amazon tipped its hand this week on how it plans to try to defeat a successful union vote at its Staten Island warehouse.
The company alleged that the regional office of the agency, based in Brooklyn, “created the impression” it was supporting the union by filing a lawsuit against Amazon before the vote. Amazon also alleged the NLRB delayed investigating “unmeritorious” unfair labor practice charges and understaffed the election.
Amazon also alleges the independent Amazon Labor Union harassed employees who did not support the union, trespassed on Amazon’s property and “misled employees by telling them that they would lose their benefits if they did not support the ALU,” among other issues.
Amazon’s move comes after a monumental vote last week when thousands of workers at the Staten Island warehouse voted to join the union, marking the first successful vote to unionize an Amazon warehouse in the United States. It was driven by the independent Amazon Labor Union, an upstart effort with no formal ties to national labor organizations, and was led by current and former Amazon workers, who organized the stunning victory.
Now, Amazon is deploying its plan to fight back against the election results, beginning with its objections. Labor lawyers say the company, which strongly opposed unionization, could try to delay the process of workers forming a union for years.
“Amazon probably figures it has nothing to lose by exhausting every possible appeals process because time is on its side,” said John Logan, chair of the labor and employment studies department at San Francisco State University.
The NLRB on Thursday granted an extension request from Amazon and gave the company until April 22 to file evidence for the objections. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.
Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said in a statement that the company believes the election should be redone because the NLRB and the Amazon Labor Union “improperly suppressed and influenced the vote.”
“We’ve always said that we want our employees to have their voices heard, and in this case, that didn’t happen — fewer than a third of the employees at the site voted for the union, and overall turnout was unusually low,” she said.
On Friday, the NLRB repeated its statement that it released last week.
“The NLRB is an independent federal agency that Congress has charged with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act,” spokeswoman Kayla Blado said. “All NLRB enforcement actions against Amazon have been consistent with that congressional mandate.”
A representative for the Amazon Labor Union said none of Amazon’s objections had merit and called them a tactic to delay the union.
“It’s a blatant attempt by Amazon to interfere with and go around the democratic choice of their workforce,” Amazon worker and labor organizer Connor Spence said. “If they really were striving to be ‘Earth’s Best Employer,’ they wouldn’t engage in this kind of behavior.”
The NLRB will need to certify the vote before the union can try to bargain a contract with Amazon. The objections could delay or even cancel that process, depending on what the NLRB decides. Amazon has many avenues to fight the vote results, including by refusing to bargain and forcing regulators to get involved.
Amazon has faced increased pressure since the pandemic began from workers pushing to get better pay, safer working conditions and less surveillance at its network of warehouses around the country. Workers in both Staten Island and Bessemer, Ala., started the early stages of organizing during the first months of the pandemic, when employees were concerned that the company wasn’t doing enough to stop the spread of the coronavirus through the facilities.
In Alabama, workers partnered with the national Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and held an election last year. The union was rejected by a wide margin, but the NLRB later called for a new election after it found that Amazon had improperly interfered. The second vote was counted last month, and it remains too close to call as the parties consider challenged ballots and objections.
Both the union and Amazon filed objections in Alabama this week.
In the New York election, Amazon’s objections include an allegation that the NLRB improperly helped the union reach a required threshold of signatures from employees to file for the vote. The agency did this by removing more than 1,500 employees from the list of eligible workers, Amazon alleged.
“The Region’s willingness to bend its rules lent a false air of legitimacy to the Union and constituted obvious and improper assistance to the ALU,” Amazon wrote in its filing.
The company also alleged that the NLRB told employees to cover up their shirts that said “Vote No,” but let voters wear Amazon Labor Union clothes. Amazon said that the NLRB should have better controlled members of the media near the polls, because workers could have been discouraged from voting. And the company called out the Amazon Labor Union’s practice of handing out marijuana to workers, saying the NLRB “cannot condone such a practice as a legitimate method of obtaining support for a labor organization.”
Organizing on Staten Island started two years ago when Chris Smalls, a fired warehouse worker, began rallying workers and later helped form the Amazon Labor Union last year. Smalls said that the union was stronger as an independent, worker-led organization with an insider view.
Amazon strongly opposed unionization at its facilities, and hired consultants, printed posters and held mandatory classes for workers to discourage them for voting to unionize. Those classes, called “captive audience meetings,” may soon be on the chopping block after NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said in a memo this week she would ask the board to consider making the classes a violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
The agency will hold a hearing to consider Amazon’s objections in Staten Island once all the evidence is in.
Amazon objected to an NLRB suit filed against the company before the vote, which asked for a court to order Amazon to reinstate a fired worker.
Amazon said it fired the employee because he was allegedly bullying and defaming a female co-worker during an altercation caught on video. In a summary to the administrative judge, NLRB counsel wrote that Amazon’s reason for firing the worker was “mere pretext” and he was actually fired for organizing protests of Amazon’s working conditions.
Amazon hinted at this lawsuit in its statement after the election last week, saying that it was considering filing objections related to what it called the “inappropriate and undue influence by the NLRB.”
Nantel, the Amazon spokeswoman, said at the time that it was “noteworthy that the NLRB is pursuing an ‘emergency injunction’ right before an election when they’ve known the facts in this case for over 18 months.”
The case had been making its way through the NLRB’s administrative court system for nearly two years.
The NLRB defended the agency’s role in conducting the Staten Island election last week. “The NLRB is an independent federal agency that Congress has charged with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act,” Blado said in response to the Amazon statement.