Union Says Amazon Violated Labor Law in the Alabama Election

In addition to the alleged threats, the union claims Amazon took actions to win the favor of employees. Once the election was underway, company agents allegedly began soliciting employee grievances and offering to fix them, relaxed certain rules, and offered pay bumps and free merch. The union questioned Amazon’s use of “the Offer,” an annual payout the company offers workers who want to quit, calling it “a threat wrapped as a benefit.” The Offer wasn’t new or specific to BHM1, but a former NLRB chairman told CNBC that the company arguably should have suspended it during the election.

Asked for comment on the objections, an Amazon spokesperson shared the company’s post-election blog post and wrote, “The fact is that less than 16 percent of employees at BHM1 voted to join a union,” a figure that includes the uncounted ballots and employees who didn’t vote. “Rather than accepting these employees’ choice, the union seems determined to continue misrepresenting the facts in order to drive its own agenda. We look forward to the next steps in the legal process.”

There are many reasons workers may have voted no. Some workers said they were satisfied with Amazon’s pay and benefits. Local government, eager to bring jobs to an area hard hit by the decline of manufacturing, heavily courted the company, offering the hefty tax incentives Amazon has made a habit of extracting. The company’s $15 minimum wage is more than double Alabama’s minimum, though it falls short of other unionized warehouses in the state. Some workers worried about losing these jobs if the union won.

Retaliatory firings and plant closures intended to discourage unionizing other locations are illegal, but the penalties amount to pocket change for most employers. Abandoning a new $325 million facility with a 20-year lease would be a bigger deterrent, though even that would not be impossible for a trillion-dollar company to absorb.

However, the RWDSU alleges that Amazon’s anti-union tactics were so egregious, the union barely stood a fighting chance. Labor law violations are common during union elections, says Rutgers labor studies professor Rebecca Givan. Penalties for breaking the law are meager, and many employers consider them a cost of doing business.

Challenges to NLRB elections fall into two categories: objections, which relate to how the election was conducted, were due in the regional NLRB office on Friday. Unfair labor practice charges, basically anything that violates labor law, must be filed within six months of an alleged offense. The RWDSU will likely submit these later. Amazon can also file its own charges, but the company did not comment on whether it plans to do so.

Next, the regional office of the NLRB will likely schedule a hearing, typically within three weeks. During the hearing, both sides can present evidence and call and cross-examine witnesses. If unfair-labor-practice charges have been filed by that point, they might get thrown into the mix or receive a separate hearing later.

The regional director could issue a decision on the objections, or combine them with unfair labor practice charges and refer them to an administrative law judge, who rules on unfair labor practices. Either side can appeal the decision to the five-member national board in Washington, DC—and that’s when national party politics come into play. Republicans have controlled the NLRB since 2017, and they set an employer-friendly agenda during that time. They currently hold a 3-1 majority, with one seat vacant. However, Republican William Emanuel’s term expires in August. President Biden may be able to seat two Democrats by the end of the year, flipping control. If the Amazon case stretches out that long, it may improve odds for any union appeal.