Amazon loses effort to halt Alabama union drive, voting begins next week

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Amazon lost out on its push to postpone a closely watched union vote at its Bessemer, Ala.-based warehouse.

Last month, Amazon appealed the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) decision to let roughly 6,000 warehouse workers vote by mail on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. In its appeal, Amazon requested the NLRB review aspects of its earlier decision and pressed for an in-person election, citing flaws in the agency’s definition of what constitutes a coronavirus outbreak.

On Friday, the NLRB denied Amazon’s appeal, saying it raised “no substantial issues warranting review.”

“The Employer’s Motion to Stay the Election Pending Review is also denied as moot,” according to a filing.

By denying Amazon’s appeal, the NLRB will allow Amazon workers at the Alabama warehouse to begin voting by mail, as planned, beginning next week. The workers will cast their ballots beginning Feb. 8. The ballots must be received by the NLRB’s regional office by March 29, then the board will begin counting the ballots beginning at 10 a.m. CT on the following day.

The decision kicks off what will be the first major unionization effort within Amazon since 2014, when repair technicians at a Delaware warehouse failed to garner enough votes to form a union. However, since then, protests tied to Prime Day and other events, as well as the coronavirus pandemic, have laid the groundwork for rising organizing efforts among some parts of its workforce across the country.

The unionization effort in Alabama has emerged as a protracted labor battle at Amazon, with the company hiring the same law firm it used to assist with negotiations during the 2014 union drive in Delaware.

Amazon has also set up a website to advertise its position on the Alabama warehouse union drive, urging workers to “do it without dues,” referring to the cost of membership when joining a union. Over the past few weeks, it has ramped up communications with workers at the Bessemer warehouse about the union, known as BHM1, including by holding mandatory meetings, disbursing flyers throughout the facility and sending text messages.

In a statement, RWDSU President Stuart Applebaum heralded the NLRB’s decision as a victory in the Amazon workers’ fight to organize and criticized Amazon’s push to hold an in-person election as a threat to their health and safety amid the pandemic.

“Once again Amazon workers have won another fight in their effort to win a union voice,” Applebaum said in a statement. “Today’s decision proves that it’s long past time that Amazon start respecting its own employees; and allow them to cast their votes without intimidation and interference.”

Representatives from Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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