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Amazon says landmark Staten Island union vote should be thrown out


Vote banners hang on the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Ala., March 26, 2021.

By Karen Weise


Amazon objected late last week to a landmark election at its fulfillment center on Staten Island in New York City, saying an upstart union’s unorthodox tactics there crossed legal lines, according to a copy of its filing to the National Labor Relations Board obtained by The New York Times.


The company argued that the result should be thrown out because the NLRB had conducted the election in a way that favored the union and members of the union had coerced workers into supporting their cause.


In the final tally April 1, workers cast 2,654 votes to be represented by the Amazon Labor Union, and 2,131 voted against it, giving the union a win by 11 percentage points.


The result of another Amazon election, at a warehouse in Alabama, is also being challenged by both the company and a union seeking to represent workers there, according to filings submitted late Thursday. That union argued that the problems “both separately and cumulatively constitute grounds to set the election aside,” but Amazon stopped short of calling for the result to be tossed. The union trails in the initial tally.


Amazon’s new filing detailed 25 objections to the result on Staten Island. Its argument turned many of the tactics of the Amazon Labor Union — started by a handful of workers at the facility — against it.


Amazon argued, in one instance, that when the union offered workers marijuana, it amounted to an “impermissible grant of support” for workers’ votes. The company said the way union supporters had interrupted mandatory anti-union meetings “intentionally created hostile confrontations” that limited Amazon’s right to communicate with staff.


The company also said the union had improperly “polled” workers during a key period before the election when both employers and unions are prohibited from tracking votes.


The Amazon Labor Union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Amazon also targeted the NLRB, saying the way the agency investigated complaints brought by workers and pursued enforcement against Amazon tilted the field in support of the union. The agency has said it was performing its duty to enforce labor rights.


Amazon said the agency had erred in the operations for the election, including not having enough staff on hand to manage voting, which the company said had created long lines and suppressed turnout.


“Based on the evidence we’ve seen so far, as set out in our objections, we believe that the actions of the NLRB and the ALU improperly suppressed and influenced the vote, and we think the election should be conducted again so that a fair and broadly representative vote can be had,” Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, said in a statement.


In another objection, the company said the union had failed to file standard financial reports. In an interview with the Times this week, Christian Smalls, president of the union, said it had supplied needy workers with cash, both through separate GoFundMe efforts and the union’s funds.


If a worker needed a bill paid, “we’re paying that bill; we’re sending money right over no question,” Smalls said. Legal experts said that some of those transactions — such as extra pay for union organizers out sick with COVID-19 — might be fine but that others could cause problems depending on when and how many people received them.


But the NLRB “rarely” overturns elections on allegations of union misconduct, said John Logan, a professor at San Francisco State University who studies employer campaigns. Amazon will need to prove that any objectionable conduct could have altered the result of the election, he said, and “unlike Amazon, the ALU has no coercive power over employees.”


The labor agency granted Amazon a two-week extension, to April 22, to provide additional evidence supporting the objections.


In Bessemer, Alabama, the union trailed slightly in the initial tally of the votes announced March 31: 993 workers voted against being represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, and 875 voted in favor. But more than 400 ballots have yet to be counted because they were challenged by either party. The issue of those challenged ballots, enough to potentially affect the outcome, is set to be resolved at a labor board hearing in the coming weeks.


The election this year was a do-over that the NLRB had ordered after siding with the union’s claims that Amazon illegally interfered with an election at the facility last year.


In its recent filing, the retail workers union enumerated 21 objections, including intimidation, retaliation and unlawful surveillance of workers.


“The company violated the law in the first election and did so again in this re-run election, without any doubt,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the union, said in a statement.


Amazon detailed eight objections, including several related to misrepresentation or improper conduct when the union visited employees at home. One objection was against the NLRB, for deciding to hold the election by mail instead of in person, which Amazon said depressed turnout.


“We’ve said from the beginning that we want our employees’ voices to be heard, and we hope the NLRB counts every valid vote,” Nantel said.

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