Amazon Loses Effort to Halt Alabama Union Drive, Voting Begins Next Week

Peter Endig | AFP | Getty Images
  • The National Labor Relations Board denied Amazon's request to postpone a closely watched union vote at a sprawling warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.
  • Amazon had pushed for the agency to review its earlier decision and consider holding an in-person election, citing errors in the NLRB's definition of what constitutes a coronavirus outbreak.
  • Workers at the Bessemer warehouse will begin casting their ballots by mail on Monday, and voting extends through March 29.

Amazon on Friday lost its push to postpone a closely watched union vote at a sprawling Alabama warehouse, allowing 6,000 workers to decide the first major unionization effort within the company since 2014.

The decision by the National Labor Relations Board involved an appeal by Amazon last month to block a mail-in vote by workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

The company had asked the NLRB to 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.

In its latest ruling, the NLRB said Amazon's appeal raised "no substantial issues warranting review."

"The Employer's Motion to Stay the Election Pending Review is also denied as moot," the board said.

By denying Amazon's appeal, the NLRB will allow Amazon workers at the warehouse to begin voting by mail starting Monday. Ballots must be received by the NLRB's regional office by March 29, and counting will begin the following day.

The last major unionization effort within Amazon was in 2014, when repair technicians at a Delaware warehouse failed to garner enough votes to join a union. Since then, however, protests tied to Prime Day, the coronavirus pandemic and other events have laid the groundwork for new organizing efforts within 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 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.

The company has ramped up communications with workers in recent weeks at the BHM1 Bessemer warehouse about the union. Amazon has held mandatory meetings, distributed flyers throughout the facility and sent text messages in that time.

Union President Stuart Applebaum heralded the NLRB's decision as a victory in the Amazon workers' fight to organize and criticized the company's push to hold an in-person election as a threat to workers 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."

Amazon spokeswoman Heather Knox told CNBC in a statement that the company stands by its effort to push for an in-person election and said it will continue to insist on measures for a fair election that allows for a majority of its employees to participate. In its appeal to the NLRB, Amazon had expressed concerns that a mail-in election could lead to a depressed turnout and could raise the risk of fraud.

"Our goal is for as many of our employees as possible to vote and we're disappointed by the decision by the NLRB not to provide the most fair and effective format to achieve maximum employee participation," Knox said.

Copyright CNBC
Contact Us