Round 2: Bessemer Amazon workers headed for new union election

Union organizers are gearing up for an election re-run at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama. On November 29, the National Labor Relations Board ordered that a new election be held to determine whether workers will form a union. This decision was based on objections filed by the RWDSU union charging that Amazon used blatantly illegal tactics to stifle the unionization effort last spring. 

The importance of Amazon workers organizing to fight back against the company’s greed was tragically on display December 10 when six Amazon employees in Edwardsville, Illinois were killed after a warehouse was struck by a tornado. Management forced them to stay at work despite the deadly conditions.

Back in August, the NLRB hearing officer on the Bessemer case recommended a new election, citing the installation of a U.S. Postal Service ballot box on site at the facility where workers participating in the election were subject to intimidating surveillance by the company. She also cited the distribution of “vote no” merchandise to illegally poll likely voting amongst employees.

Now, the NLRB regional director has upheld the hearing officer’s recommendation and ordered a reelection. The time for the second election has not yet been ordered and it is likely that Amazon will request a review of the decision by the national NLRB. The decision will almost certainly be approved by the NLRB and only actions by the board could delay the process further.

Amazon is using tried-and-true union-busting tactics to delay and muddy the waters enough that even once they are forced to hold a legal election they will have undermined workers’ trust in the legitimacy of the whole process. The company, like most major corporations, has advisors and consultants on preventing workplace democracy and blatantly illegal tactics have always been a part of their playbook.

The woeful labor protection laws in the United States incentivise illegal tactics because workers can be freely harassed and worn down with the only punishment facing corporations is that new elections may be ordered. The current system fails to protect the rights of workers and all too often turns a blind eye to abuse by employers. 

This case is a perfect example of why the working class needs legislation like the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) act. The act would serve to give basic protections to the election process, introduce penalties for illegal actions on the part of employers, and overturn right-to-work laws currently enforced in many states including Alabama. A change in legislation would remove a major roadblock for workers’ organization and give basic legal protections for democracy in the workplace.

Though historically employers in the United States have been heavily favored in second union elections, Bessemer is a special case. The massive on-the-ground organizing and egregious violations by Amazon in the spring garnered international press, making this one of the highest-profile recent union drives. The initial election has been overturned because of these organizing efforts and national attention. When the second election is held, organizers will come out again and the press will assuredly be following the drive from its outset. 

Many other union drives have popped up in Amazon facilities across the country and the Teamsters have announced a campaign to unionize all of Amazon. By the time a second election is held, it will be a part of a national concerted effort against a company that has been exposed over and over again for disregarding and terrorizing its workers. The landscape is clearly shifting and Amazon has already shown how scared they really are.

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