Amazon violated US labor laws in Alabama union vote, labor official rules

An NLRB officer recommended a new vote, but Amazon said it will fight the decision.

Elijah Nouvelage via Getty Images

A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) officer has recommended that workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama hold a new election because Amazon broke US labor laws, the New York Times has reported. It's still only a preliminary ruling, but provides hope that workers may still be able to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

Last April, worker's at the fulfillment center voted against unionization by a margin of more than two to one. Following the vote, however, the RWDSU alleged that Amazon won because it “interfered” with the rights of its employees "to vote in a free and fair election; a right protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act."

The RWDSU filed 23 objections in total, including one complaint that Amazon had a ballot collection box installed in an employee parking lot “without authorization” from the NLRB’s regional director. It noted that the box was placed under the view of Amazon security cameras, creating "an impression of surveillance."

The NLRB officer sided with the union, saying Amazon violated US labor laws. "Throughout the NLRB hearing, we heard compelling evidence how Amazon tried to illegally interfere with and intimidate workers as they sought to exercise their right to form a union," said union president Stuart Appelbaum in a statement. "We support the hearing officer’s recommendation that the NLRB set aside the election results and direct a new election."

Amazon, however, said it would dispute the decision and take steps to ensure that the initial vote held. "Our employees had a chance to be heard during a noisy time when all types of voices were weighing into the national debate, and at the end of the day, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of a direct connection with their managers,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “Their voice should be heard above all else, and we plan to appeal to ensure that happens.”

The decision doesn't yet have any legal force until a full ruling is made by the NLRB's acting regional director, something that could take up to a month. During that time, parties will be able to file exceptions.

Since the Bessemer vote, Amazon's situation has caught the attention of the Teamsters union, which created a special division to focus on organizing Amazon's delivery drivers. Amazon has been criticized for the working conditions of drivers and warehouse workers alike, along with its union-busting efforts that were exposed in a New York Times report earlier this year.