NLRB official says Amazon violated labor law in union vote, recommends new election, according to union

Amazon Bessemer mailbox
The mailbox outside Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, that prompted allegations from the RWDSU that the company was trying to manipulate the election.

  • An NLRB official found Amazon violated labor during its union election, according to the union.
  • As a result, the official recommended that a new election should be held.
  • An NLRB regional director will now make a formal decision about whether to hold a second election.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The National Labor Relations Board official overseeing the union election at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, recommended on Monday that a new election be held, according to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

“In a final step towards a formal decision, the Hearing Officer who presided over the case has determined that Amazon violated labor law; and is recommending that the Regional Director set aside the results of the election and direct a second election,” the RWDSU, under which Amazon’s workers would unionize, said in a statement.

The decision is not final, however. It now heads to the NLRB’s regional director for Region 10, which includes Alabama, who will make a formal decision about whether to adopt the hearing officer’s recommendations.

If the regional director agrees, the NLRB will issue an order tossing out the results of the original election, in which Amazon employees voted 1,798 to 738 against unionizing, with 505 ballots challenged and 76 voided, and will conduct a new election.

“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. We support the hearing officer’s recommendation that the NLRB set aside the election results and direct a new election,” the RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum said in the statement.

“As President Biden reminded us earlier this year, the question of whether or not to have a union is supposed to be the workers’ decision and not the employer’s. Amazon’s behavior throughout the election process was despicable. Amazon cheated, they got caught, and they are being held accountable.”

“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 and the company. Their voice should be heard above all else, and we plan to appeal to ensure that happens,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement to Insider.

Following the initial election period, in which Amazon aggressively campaigned against the union, the RWDSU filed 23 formal objections to Amazon’s conduct, accusing it of violating labor laws by interfering with the voting process and trying to pressure workers into voting against forming a union.

One of the union’s major objections revolved around a mailbox that Amazon executives had pushed the USPS to install outside its warehouse, prompting concerns that the mailbox could be perceived as a way to deter workers from voting in favor of a union.

Amazon had denied those allegations, previously telling Insider that “rather than accepting these employees’ choice, the union seems determined to continue misrepresenting the facts in order to drive its own agenda.”

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Giant inflatable rats used by labor unions are constitutionally protected free speech, labor board rules

"Scabby the Rat" is a fixture at labor disputes, first deployed in 1990 by a union in Chicago.
“Scabby the Rat” is a fixture at labor disputes, first deployed in 1990 by a union in Chicago.

  • “Scabby the Rat” was first used by labor unions in 1990.
  • The inflatable rat ranges in size from 12 feet to 25 feet.
  • The Trump administration had argued its “red eyes, fangs, and claws” constituted an illegal threat.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Labor unions have a constitutionally protected right to protest using giant inflatable rodents, a federal board ruled Wednesday.

“Scabby the Rat,” as it is known, has became a staple of labor protests in the United States, often rolled out when a company has decided to hire non-union contractors. The menacing inflatables were first deployed in 1990 by a bricklayers union in Illinois, according to the Chicago Tribune. Some have been as tall as 25 feet.

In this case, the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150, headquartered just outside Chicago, had brought a 12-foot “rat” along with it to a trade show for recreational vehicles. The target was Lippert Components, which supplied parts for another firm, MacAllister Machinery, that the union accused of engaging in unfair labor practices.

Under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, unions are generally prohibited from engaging in secondary boycotts, or seeking to intimidate so-called “neutral” companies that are not the direct target of their dispute. The question considered by the National Labor Relations Board – an independent federal agency whose members are appointed to five-year terms by the president – was where to draw the line between legal speech and illicit intimidation.

The Trump administration had sided against labor, submitting a legal brief maintaining that the giant rats were “glaring in character and size and an unmistakable symbol of contempt,” their “red eyes, fangs, and claws” constituting a threat, not constitutionally protected expression. The ACLU, in turn, argued that the First Amendment was at stake, arguing that the previous administration was “attempting to exterminate Scabby because he is a labor symbol.”

Ultimately, even those members of the NLRB who were appointed by former President Donald Trump sided with the ACLU and organized labor.

In her opinion, NLRB Chairman Lauren M. McFerran, a Democrat and appointee of President Joe Biden, wrote that courts “have consistently deemed banners and inflatable rats to fall within the realm of protected speech, rather than that of intimidation and the like.”

The NLRB’s three other members, all Republicans, likewise agreed that while federal labor law limits activities targeting a “neutral” employer, it does not override the Constitution and its protections for free speech.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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Biden fired the Trump-appointed Social Security head amid complaints of stimulus check delays and union-busting tactics

Andrew Saul, Social Security Administration commissioner
New York businessman Andrew Saul testifies before the Senate Finance Committee during his confirmation hearing to be commissioner of the Social Security Administration on October 02, 2018 in Washington, DC.

  • The White House fired Andrew Saul, the Social Security head, on Friday evening.
  • Democrats and advocates charged the agency with gumming up stimulus checks for disabled people.
  • Democrats cheered the firings while Republicans said Biden was injecting politics into the agency.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden fired Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul and his top deputy on Friday afternoon, sparking a face-off as Saul says he doesn’t intend to step down from his post.

Saul, a Trump appointee, had triggered fierce criticism from Democrats and advocates, who said he gummed up the speedy distribution of $1,400 stimulus checks to disabled Americans and applied union-busting tactics with labor unions representing federal employees.

The Washington Post first reported Saul, 74, was fired after refusing to step down. His deputy David Black turned in his resignation upon request, The Post reported.

Saul disputed the White House’s ability to remove him. “I consider myself the term-protected Commissioner of Social Security,” he told The Post, adding he plans to sign in remotely and work on Monday.

His six-year tenure was supposed to end in 2025, and Social Security heads aren’t typically switched out when a new administration takes power. But the White House appeared to draw from a recent Supreme Court ruling for the authority to replace him amid mounting calls from Democrats to replace him.

The White House did not immediately respond to comment.

Saul is a former GOP donor who served on the board of a conservative think-tank that advocated for cuts to Social Security benefits. Advocates said the Social Security Administration delayed releasing information to the IRS for stimulus checks earlier this year.

They also argued the SSA under Saul made it much more burdensome for disabled people to reestablish their eligibility for benefits.

Congressional Democrats and activists cheered Friday’s firings. Alex Lawson, president of Social Security Works, told Insider it was “great news” Saul and Black are no longer in charge of the agency.

“They were put in place by former President Trump to sabotage Social Security and no one but Wall Street is sad to see them go,” he said. “Their attacks on seniors and people with disabilities will be their shameful legacy.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio also praised the move. The Banking committee chair said in a statement Saul “tried to systematically dismantle Social Security as we know it from within.”

“Social Security is the bedrock of our middle class that Americans earn and count on, and they need a Social Security Commissioner who will honor that promise to seniors, survivors, and people with disabilities now and for decades to come,” Brown said.

Congressional Republicans swung in the opposite direction. Rep. Kevin Brady, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, and Sen. Mike Crapo, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, released a statement scolding the Biden administration for ousting Saul.

“Social Security beneficiaries stand the most to lose from President Biden’s partisan decision to remove Commissioner Andrew Saul from leadership of the Social Security Administration,” Brady and Crapo said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also weighed in earlier on the prospect of Saul’s firing. He wrote on Twitter Saul’s removal would be “an unprecedented and dangerous politicization of the Social Security Administration.”

The Social Security Administration is in charge of dispensing benefits for nearly 64 million seniors, disabled and low-income Americans, or one in six people in the US.

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New research shows that labor unions can help reduce the risk of poverty

labor union protest
Participants carry signs during a march and rally by labor union supporters in Los Angeles.

  • Belonging to a labor union lowers the likelihood that you’ll fall into poverty, new research shows.
  • Living in a state with higher unionization rates even if you’re not a member also helps.
  • Had union membership not declined since the 1970s, we could expect poverty rates to be lower today.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Belonging to a union or living in a US state where organized labor is relatively strong helps lower the likelihood that you’ll fall into poverty, according to our new research.

In a peer-reviewed study, we examined how unionization is correlated with poverty. We analyzed data on poverty and unionization rates from 1975 through 2015 using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which is widely considered to be the gold standard for tracking individuals over time. We used a variety of poverty measures in our analysis.

We found that households in which there was at least one union member had an average poverty rate of 5.9%, compared with 18.9% for nonunion households, based on a relative measure of poverty rather than an absolute measure, by which what it means to be poor is fixed over time.

Read more: I rage-quit my job of 6 years when a new employee was promoted over me. I don’t regret leaving in such an emotional way, but there are a few things I should’ve done differently.

We also wanted to examine the impact of living in a state with a higher rate of unionization to see whether this broadly affected the likelihood that someone would be in poverty compared with states with lower union membership. Using the same relative measure of poverty, we found that states with higher unionization rates had average poverty levels about 7% lower than states with lower unionization rates.

Our findings imply that a 5% decline in union membership translates, on average, into a 2% increase in the probability that a resident of the state will fall into poverty.

Why it matters

When policymakers and academics develop plans to address poverty, they rarely, to our knowledge, consider the impact of labor unions.

And yet research across social science disciplines show time and again that labor unions have been central to bolstering the American middle class by raising wages and expanding access to fringe benefits.

Thus, it is logical, though rarely discussed, that unions would also reduce the risk that people become impoverished.

Our study also helps explain why the United States has a relatively high rate of poverty18% as of 2017 – compared with other rich democracies. France and the Norway, for example, boast poverty rates in the single digits as well as higher rates of union membership.

Our results suggest that had union membership not declined dramatically since the 1970s, we could reasonably expect poverty rates would be significantly lower.

What’s next

We intend to conduct additional research, both within the United States and among other countries, to better understand the mechanisms linking unionization to poverty.

More broadly, the biggest open question is whether US labor unions can expand their membership again and provide these types of protections against adverse economic forces.

Tom VanHeuvelen, assistant professor of sociology, University of Minnesota and David Brady, professor of public policy, University of California, Riverside

The Conversation
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Amazon exec Dave Clark pushed USPS to install mailbox now at center of union election controversy

Mailbox Amazon Bessemer
The mailbox outside the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer.

Amazon consumer CEO Dave Clark led the company’s push to persuade the US Postal Service to install a controversial temporary mailbox outside Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, during a recent union election, multiple outlets reported Monday.

“Please let me know where we stand on this — this is a highly visible Dave Clark initiative,” Becky Moore, an Amazon senior manager, said in a January email to USPS officials presented at a National Labor Relations Board hearing Monday, according to Bloomberg.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Jay Smith, a USPS official in charge of managing major accounts including Amazon, also testified to the NLRB that it was the first time he was aware of the agency installing such a mailbox at the request of a private company, Bloomberg reported.

Photos of the mailbox showed that modifications made by the USPS to accommodate more outgoing ballots could potentially have allowed a recipient assigned to an adjacent incoming mailbox to access the outgoing mail, according to Bloomberg.

Last week, Amazon employee Kevin Jackson testified that he saw the company’s security guards use keys to access that outgoing mail slot, but Amazon denied those allegations, Bloomberg previously reported.

Amazon’s employees voted against unionizing in April. But the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, under which employees would have unionized, filed official objections to the NLRB, claiming Amazon violated labor laws during its anti-union campaign.

The NLRB agreed to hold a hearing to determine whether Amazon acted illegally and whether a new election should be held.

The RWDSU specifically objected to Amazon’s push to convince the USPS to install the mailbox – which came despite the NLRB rejecting Amazon’s requests to force employees to vote in-person – saying the mailbox “provided a clear ability to intimidate workers.”

Amazon previously told Insider the box was an effort to allow workers to vote more easily.

The Washington Post reported last month that the USPS only decided to install the mailbox after repeated requests from Amazon corporate employees, but testimony and evidence presented during the multi-day NLRB hearing has shed more light on Amazon’s tactics.

Smith also testified that the USPS explicitly told Amazon not to place anything around the mailbox that suggested it was where employees needed to vote, CNBC reported. Yet Amazon proceeded to place a tent around the mailbox that read: “Speak for yourself! Mail your ballot here.”

“I was surprised because I was asked, ‘Can anything physical be put on the box?'” Smith said, according to CNBC, adding: “I said no. I did not want to see anything else put around that box indicating that it was a vote.”

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Teachers unions say they’re ready to come back to schools. I’ll believe it when I see it.

coronavirus uk schools
  • The politically-powerful teachers unions say they’re ready to send their members back to work, now that the COVID pandemic is effectively over.
  • And yet as a NYC public school parent, I don’t believe my kids will have full-time, in-person, five-day-a-week learning this September.
  • Because with the teachers unions there’s always a “but” – just as there is this time.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

One of the US’ major teachers’ unions has, at long last, come around to admitting its members should be back in school, full-time, this fall. It’s a huge, albeit long-delayed, development. But as a parent of three school-aged kids, count me as still skeptical.

The shift came when American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten last Thursday gave a long-anticipated speech to members of the second-largest teachers union in the country and thousands of its local affiliates.

Weingarten said plainly: “There is no doubt: Schools must be open. In person. Five days a week.”

The fog of pandemic fear, behind which the teachers’ unions have hidden for over a year, is lifting. The miracle of the COVID vaccines have made so many questionably-effective “better safe than sorry” safety measures truly obsolete.

But as a New York City public school parent whose kids haven’t been in school in any meaningful sense since March 10, 2020 – I’ve heard these sweet-sounding words about the teachers’ unions’ commitment to “fully” reopening schools before.

Their relentless goalpost-shifting for reopening, and their gaslighting of parents with repeated claims that they have wanted to reopen schools since April 2020, have lost them the benefit of the doubt.

I’ll need to see it – full-time, in-person schooling with actual teachers in the classroom – in order to believe the teachers unions truly mean what they say this time around.

There’s always a “but”

Weingarten said all the right things in her speech, asserting that her union is “all in” on fully reopening schools. She conceded that “prolonged isolation” for young people is “harmful.” And she admitted “remote learning is not on par with in-person teaching” and “equity gaps have grown wider” as a result.

But there’s always a “but.”

The union boss said schools will need to continue to vigorously enforce social distancing, which will require schools to come up with a whole lot of additional space they don’t have. Weingarten also called for schools to reduce class size, and warned of yet-unknown risks that could complicate schools reopening or staying open next year.

And as The New York Times noted, “The devil will be in the details negotiated at bargaining tables, where local union leaders may demand additional safety measures as a precondition to a full return.”

If the past year of failed negotiations to get teachers back in schools has taught us anything, it’s that the unions get what they want without having to give much in return.

Teachers prioritized for vaccination? Done. Almost $200 billion in federal spending for COVID safety measures in schools? Done. Enormous amounts of time and resources spent on hygiene theater? Done.

The unions admitting they were wrong to hype the threat of schools becoming COVID hotspots, and thus making many Black and brown families not want to send their kids to school? Never.

We’ve seen this movie over and over again for the past 15 months

I can clearly envision the anti-reopening arguments that will begin percolating when this August rolls around:

“Too many parents don’t feel safe sending their children back into school buildings!”

“We need remote teachers to teach the remote students!”

“There aren’t enough teachers, so we’re only going to have in-person school 1.5 days a week.”

With less than four months before the next school year begins, I’m not confident that any of these concerns will be effectively hashed out in time to save kids from losing part of a third year of their education.

As vaccines proliferate in the US, the AFT and other politically-powerful teachers unions can pat themselves on the back for so successfully working the system that they keep their “essential worker” membership from going into work for the entire pandemic.

But they also should be embarrassed over the damage they’ve done.

Forget about the learning loss – which some educators say we should now refer to as “learning change” – experienced during the pandemic. The psychological tolls and stunted socialization have been devastating for children kept out of schools and away from other kids for more than a year.

And by downplaying the necessity of in-person learning for so long, they’ve recklessly undermined the value of the noble profession of teaching.

Good teachers are invaluable guides through children’s development. Pretty much all teachers work hard. The pandemic has been brutal on educators.

But teachers unions have peddled the fiction that there has simply been no reasonable compromise available to fully reopen schools many months ago. That short-sighted misstep has driven people toward private schools and out of areas with politically-powerful public school teachers unions.

There are many institutions whose pandemic comportment deserves a full accounting once we’re truly out of the COVID woods.

The intransigence of the teachers unions and the feckless government officials who bent to their will at the expense of parents and students deserves a full, independent accounting.

Denying scientific evidence in the name of members “safety” was always just a front for flexing political power.

Weingarten’s seemingly-resolute declaration that it’s time for teachers to get back into school buildings was made up of nice-sounding words, but they are only words.

I’m not holding my breath that my kids will be back in school full-time in September, because I’ve seen this movie over and over again.

Teachers unions do not deserve to be trusted on their words at this point, just their deeds.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Biden will create a task force to support strengthening unions and their membership

Biden
President Joe Biden.

  • President Joe Biden is creating a task force to strengthen unions and their membership.
  • The task force will look into existing and new policies to strengthen worker power.
  • The rate of unionization has fallen in the past 40 years, and Amazon workers recently led a failed union drive.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden is creating a task force to help promote and strengthen union membership through an executive order today.

According to the White House, the task force – which will be chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris, with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh serving as vice chair – will focus on helping to bolster union membership and worker organizing and bargaining.

The task force will examine both existing policies and the need for new ones, and report back recommendations within 180 days. The group will also include Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

“Since 1935, when the National Labor Relations Act was enacted, the policy of the federal government has been to encourage worker organizing and collective bargaining, not to merely allow or tolerate them,” the White House release said. “In the 86 years since the Act was passed, the federal government has never fully implemented this policy.”

The main focuses of the task force include setting up the federal government as a “model employer,” helping to bolster worker organizing – especially by increasing power for marginalized workers, and those in industries where organizing is difficult – as well as generally upping the number of workers in unions.

Union membership has fallen

A report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a left-leaning think tank, found that the number of workers who are represented by a union declined by 444,000 from 2019 to 2020.

However, the rate of unionization – the share of workers represented by one – actually increased in 2020, to 12.1% from 11.6%. The report attributes that to the power that unions give their workers, potentially resulting in those unionized workers having more of a say in how their workplaces functioned during the pandemic and its economic impact. And industries that are less unionized – the report cites leisure and hospitality – also saw the most job losses.

On the whole, according to EPI, the unionization rate is highest for Black workers, coming in at 13.9%. Throughout the pandemic, both that rate and the number of Black workers represented by a union increased.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics also found that “Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 84 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($958 versus $1,144).”

However, in a historical context, unionization rates are still very low. EPI said 2020’s rate is still below half of what it was 40 years ago. Amazon workers had a recent high-profile union loss, as workers in a Bessemer, Alabama warehouse voted against forming a union. That unit would’ve been the first union for the company.

“Amazon didn’t win – our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union,” the company said in a statement after the vote, over which the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) has filed official objections.

But with Biden’s task force, union membership could see a boost. The president has also backed a labor-rights bill called the PRO Act.

“As America works to recover from the devastating challenges of deadly pandemic, an economic crisis, and reckoning on race that reveals deep disparities, we need to summon a new wave of worker power to create an economy that works for everyone,” Biden said in a March statement on the bill.

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Jeff Bezos downplays claims that Amazon workers are ‘desperate souls’ or ‘robots’ who can’t take bathroom breaks, but admits the company needs to ‘do a better job’ for employees after their failed union push

jeff bezos
Jeff Bezos, president and CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, speaks at the Economic Club of Washington DC’s “Milestone Celebration Dinner” in Washington, U.S., September 13, 2018.

  • Jeff Bezos defended Amazon employees’ working conditions in his 2020 letter to shareholders.
  • Bezos said workers are inaccurately portrayed as “desperate souls” and “robots” in news reports.
  • But after the failed Alabama union vote, Amazon needs to “do a better job” for workers, Bezos said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Jeff Bezos is on the defensive about how Amazon treats its employees following the failed union vote at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse.

In Bezos’ 2020 letter to shareholders, his final letter as CEO of Amazon, he discussed Amazon’s relationship with its employees after workers voted against forming a union last week, a vote that Bezos called “lopsided.”

The vote count, which finished last Friday afternoon, showed that 1,798 employees had voted against unionizing and 738 had voted for the union. While over 500 votes were challenged and 76 votes were voided, 70.9% of the valid votes were against the union.

In his letter, Bezos said he feels Amazon’s direct relationship with employees is strong, but that the company needs “a better vision for how we create value for employees – a vision for their success.”

“Does your Chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer? No, he doesn’t,” Bezos wrote. “I think we need to do a better job for our employees.”

Read more: Jeff Bezos responds to employee question about his resignation as CEO, says Amazon can ‘out-survive any individual in the company, including, of course, myself’

Bezos also indirectly discussed the controversy surrounding Amazon’s Twitter spat last month. In response to a tweet from Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan about working conditions at Amazon, Amazon’s Twitter account wrote: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”

The tweet sparked an uproar among employees, mostly Amazon delivery drivers, who said that peeing in bottles is an “inhumane” yet common part of the job. Insider also spoke with several drivers who said that they’ve had to poop in bags and struggled to change menstrual pads during their shift, in addition to peeing in bottles.

According to James Bloodworth, a British author who went undercover at an Amazon fulfillment center in 2018, warehouse employees were scolded for taking bathroom breaks. He told Insider at the time that he found bottles of pee while on the job.

In his letter, Bezos called news reports about how Amazon employees are treated inaccurate, claiming that workers are portrayed as “desperate souls” and “robots.” He highlighted the informal break time that employees are able to take during their shifts to “stretch, get water, use the rest room, or talk to a manager,” which he said don’t impact performance. These breaks are in addition to a lunch break and other break workers get during their shifts, Bezos said.

Bezos also pushed back against the notion that employees are held to unachievable performance goals, which was a main theme in the union push: Workers told Insider they were unfairly punished for taking “time off task,” or time away from their workstations.

But Bezos said that performance is evaluated over a long period of time and employees are provided with coaching if they’re not meeting their goals.

“We don’t set unreasonable performance goals,” he said. “We set achievable performance goals that take into account tenure and actual employee performance data. Performance is evaluated over a long period of time as we know that a variety of things can impact performance in any given week, day, or hour.”

Bezos’ comments come amid increasing pressure on Amazon from all sides, particularly from lawmakers. Amazon’s Alabama union vote drew the attention of Sen. Bernie Sanders and President Joe Biden, who publicly supported the workers attempting to unionize and criticized Amazon’s aggressive campaign against the union. The company has also been the subject of antitrust scrutiny over the last year, with government leaders questioning Amazon’s power and influence.

As the pressure mounts, Bezos, who testified before Congress for the first time last year, will step aside as CEO in the third quarter of 2021 and will be replaced by AWS CEO Andy Jassy.

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Amazon’s victory against a union drive in Alabama proved workers want better workplaces, but America’s labor laws are too broken to help them get that, experts say

alabama amazon warehouse unionization 2x1
Amazon faces a historic union vote in Alabama.

After one of the most high-profile union – and anti-union – campaigns in recent history, Amazon employees in Bessemer, Alabama, voted overwhelmingly against unionizing, with the National Labor Relations Board confirming Friday that 71% of eligible ballots were cast in opposition.

But eight labor experts told Insider that focusing on the vote tally misses the bigger takeaway from this saga: that American workers are demanding better workplaces and a voice on the job, and America’s current labor laws simply aren’t designed to help them accomplish that goal.

Still, they said, Bessemer put a spotlight on how stacked the deck is against workers, and that the broad, diverse public support for the union drive showed the US labor movement is gaining more steam than it has in decades.

Amazon, which had aggressively opposed the union effort, undoubtedly won a significant battle this week (pending likely legal challenges from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union). But it may have put a target on its back that could prove costly in what’s likely to be an ongoing war over how companies treat their workers, the experts said.

The fight was never going to be fair

Amazon responded to the vote Friday by saying its “employees made the choice to vote against joining a union” and that it was glad their “collective voices were finally heard.”

But experts said that misrepresents what has happened since November, when Bessemer employees officially asked the NLRB to hold a union election.

“The result reflects the imbalance in current US labor law, rather than any genuine expression of whether workers would like to have more of a voice in their workplace,” Rebecca Givan, an associate labor and employment professor at Rutgers University, told Insider.

“This demonstrates just how hard it is for workers to gain a voice on the job when the employer has unlimited resources, full access to workers all day long, and very few legal constraints on what it can do or say,” she said.

Over the past several decades, American executives and politicians have chipped away at labor laws and workers’ right to organize, experts said. At the same time, companies have kept American workers’ pay and benefits down, and shipped jobs overseas where labor is cheaper – even as workers’ productivity, as well as corporate profits and executive pay, have soared.

In European counties, like France, where labor laws more heavily favor workers, some Amazon employees have been able to successfully unionize. That has paid dividends: in July, Amazon gave its French employees a 1.6% permanent raise following union negotiations.

In Bessemer, workers had a much tougher road to travel.

“Unions lose in 90% of the cases when management opposes the organizing effort,” which Amazon’s management did, Tom Kochan, a professor of management at MIT, told Insider.

That’s depite a surge in pro-union sentiment in the US in recent years. Kochan’s research in 2017 found that around 48% of non-union workers would join one if they had the opportunity, while a Gallup poll from August found that 65% of Americans approve of unions – the highest percentage in nearly 20 years.

But under US labor law, companies have lots of tools at their disposal to try to prevent employees from unionizing, from forcing them to listen to anti-union messaging in “captive-audience” meetings, to having a significant say over which employees are eligible to unionize in the first place. Even when companies violate those laws, the NLRB, which oversees union elections, lacks the power to issue fines, which experts said gives companies little incentive to play fair.

“The most important story is not the fact that the union didn’t win. Rather, it’s that they got as close to winning as they did,” Erin Hatton, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Buffalo whose research focuses on work and labor movements, told Insider.

“Through legal coercion and illegal tactics, employers spend a great deal of money to keep unions out and it usually works. So this outcome isn’t all that surprising. And yet the workers were incredibly successful in so many ways,” she said.

Anti-union tactics in the spotlight

One of those successes, experts said, was bringing attention to Amazon’s industry-standard, but still aggressively anti-union tactics.

“Amazon’s tactics during the campaign and voting process were successful for them but now are being questioned legally and in the public view,” Lynne Vincent, an assistant professor of management at Syracuse University, told Insider.

Even before employees started talking about forming a union, Amazon had hired private detectives known for union busting, spied on workers’ private Facebook groups, and tracked unionization risk with a heat map tool in an effort to thwart organizing efforts before they gained momentum.

Amazon also illegally fired multiple employees last year who organized demonstrations to shed light on what they said were unsafe and grueling working conditions, the NLRB found. Amazon previously said it disagreed with the board’s findings in one case, while the other case is still pending before an NLRB administrative law judge.

Once employees took their union drive public, Amazon enlisted expensive “union avoidance” consultants to help kick its union-busting tactics into overdrive. Amazon pushed its anti-union message through websites, t-shirts, frequent texts to employees, and midnight “education” meetings, which labor experts told Insider were fairly typically in union campaigns like this.

Amazon’s executives and PR team also waged an atypical attack on members of Congress who voiced support for the unions (Amazon later apologized for some of its tweets), and deployed an army of warehouse employees to respond to criticism of the company on social media.

But the company also sought to shape the voting process itself.

The NLRB has allowed mail-in voting in union elections since March 2020 due to the pandemic, but Amazon (twice, unsuccessfully) tried to get the NLRB to hold an in-person election. When that failed, it reportedly pressed the United States Postal Service to install a mailbox outside the Bessemer warehouse.

An Amazon spokesperson previously told Insider that the USPS installed the mailbox “for the convenience of our employees.”

But the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union – under which Amazon’s Bessemer employees would have unionized if the vote had passed – accused Amazon of using the mailbox to intimidate workers and plans to file unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB that, if serious enough, could cause the NLRB to throw out the election result.

John Logan, a labor and employment professor at San Francisco State University who specializes in companies’ union avoidance strategies, told Insider that the mailbox’s placement likely gave employees an impression that “Amazon was playing some kind of direct role in monitoring and even perhaps in counting the votes, which clearly creates an atmosphere of pressure and potentially unlawful intimidation.”

Vincent said that companies who use a similar anti-union playbook to Amazon “may see validation in the effectiveness of the tactics,” but that the Bessemer campaign may also cause politicians to reexamine and ultimately outlaw some of those tactics.

What’s next for American workers?

Kochan said the Bessemer union drive was “another clear indication that [US] labor law is broken, perhaps in its current form, beyond repair.”

But many of the experts who spoke to Insider said the massive amount of attention and public support it generated suggest there may finally be an appetite to begin those repairs.

Under the Trump administration, the NLRB “systematically rolled back workers’ rights,” according to an analysis by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. President Joe Biden has already signaled he intends to be much more pro-worker than his predecessor, releasing a video in support of unionization efforts and against corporate “anti-union propaganda” – as Amazon employees were voting.

“Given the pro union sentiment in many areas, as well as the clear backing of the current administration, it would still not be surprising to see successful efforts to unionize businesses in other areas, and eventually, even at Amazon itself,” Joseph Seiner, a labor and employment law professor at the University of South Carolina, told Insider.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, from Republican Sen. Marco Rubio to Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, voiced support for the Amazon employees’ push to unionize. The House also passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would make it easier for workers to organize, harder for employers to misclassify workers, and ban certain union-busting tactics – though the bill faces steep odds in the Senate.

Veena Dubal, a law professor at UC Hastings who researches how technology impacts workers’ lives, said that the Bessemer vote may push regulators to look more closely at how giant tech firms like Amazon exert power over workers.

“A lot of regulatory focus has hinged on anti-trust regulation-the need to break up Amazon because of its significant market power-but the truth is, Amazon also exerts monopsony power in labor markets. In areas where Amazon warehouses exist, wages go down, not up,” Dubal said.

The COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice protests following George Floyd’s death last May have also forced Americans to reckon with how race plays a role in the workplace. That became a focus in Bessemer, where the RWDSU estimated that 85% of Amazon’s employees are Black, according to The New York Times.

“The core issue in the campaign was not about specific concessions but worker power. And in this case, it can’t be distinguished from the struggle for racial equity,” Premilla Nadasen, an associate professor of history at Barnard College who researches alternative labor movements, told Insider. “Black people are being disenfranchised electorally and subject to systemic violence. So, the struggle for economic control over matters more.”

“Official union membership figures aside,” she said, “more and more working-class Americans are recognizing the need to have a collective voice.”

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Votes against Amazon union lead after first day of ballot counting

Amazon union RWDSU vote Bessember Alabama warehouse
Union organizers Syrena (R) and Steve (no last names given) wave to cars exiting an Amazon fulfillment center on March 27, 2021 in Bessemer, Alabama.

  • The NLRB has paused its counting of Amazon employees’ votes over whether to unionize.
  • As of Thursday evening, votes against unionizing led by a margin of 1,100 to 463.
  • The NLRB expects to resume counting the votes Friday, but the results will likely be challenged.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Votes against forming a union at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, lead by a more than 2-1 margin after the first day of counting ballots.

The National Labor Relations Board paused its public counting of Amazon employees’ ballots shortly after 7 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday with the anti-union votes leading 1,100 to 463.

The NLRB plans to resume counting ballots again on Friday morning at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

While the remaining ballots are likely to be counted Friday, it could take the NLRB several weeks to announce the official outcome of the vote due to likely challenges from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union – the labor group under which Amazon’s Bessemer employees would unionize if the vote passes.

“Our system is broken, Amazon took full advantage of that, and we will be calling on the labor board to hold Amazon accountable for its illegal and egregious behavior during the campaign. But make no mistake about it; this still represents an important moment for working people and their voices will be heard,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum told Insider in a statement.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

Per NLRB rules for union votes, both Amazon and the RWDSU can file objections within five days of the conclusion of the count. The NLRB then decides whether the objections are serious enough to warrant a hearing where it will determine whether the vote results should be set aside.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Amazon pushed the United States Postal Service to install a mailbox outside the Bessemer warehouse at the start of the voting period in February, which the RWDSU previously argued violates labor laws by intimidating workers and implying Amazon plays a role in collecting and counting ballots.

“This mailbox – which only the USPS had access to – was a simple, secure, and completely optional way to make it easy for employees to vote, no more and no less,” Amazon spokeswoman Heather Knox told The Post.

Before Thursday’s public vote count, both Amazon and the RWDSU also had the opportunity to challenge employees’ eligibility to cast a ballot. Hundreds of ballots were challenged, mostly by Amazon, according to the RWDSU, which could potentially impact the outcome as well.

This year Amazon appealed to change the NLRB’s practices. In February, Insider reported that the NLRB had denied Amazon’s request to conduct an in-person union election, saying that the company must allow mail-in voting. And after the close of voting on March 29, the NLRB denied a request by Amazon for increased surveillance on the room where ballots were stored in the labor board’s Birmingham, Alabama, headquarters.

Read the original article on Business Insider