The Amazon unionizing battle follows a familiar pattern as union accuses the company of ‘illegal and egregious’ actions

Amazon Alabama union sign solidarity protest
A protester at a solidarity event with the Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama.

  • Amazon defeated a union drive at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.
  • The union working with employees will file objections against Amazon’s “blatantly illegal actions.”
  • Companies are accused of illegal union activity in more than 41% of union drives, according to data.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As votes against forming a union at an Amazon warehouse Bessemer, Alabama outnumber pro-union ballots in an apparent landslide victory, organizers are blaming a broken system.

On Friday, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced it will file official objections with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) “against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote.”

“Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees. We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged,” RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement.

Read more: Leaked Amazon documents detail a controversial system that insiders say forces managers to give bad reviews to good employees

Amazon has said it followed the law in its communication with workers on the union effort.

“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true,” Amazon said in a statement on Friday. “Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us. And Amazon didn’t win – our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union.”

The RWDSU is the union that Amazon workers would join if they vote in favor of a union. It has called out a number of Amazon’s actions throughout the union drive, such as holding anti-union meetings and reportedly pushing the US Postal Service to install a mailbox where workers could vote.

The RWDSU will likely use some of Amazon’s anti-union efforts as ammunition to challenge the result of the vote. Appelbaum told The Washington Post that Amazon installed the mailbox “because it provided a clear ability to intimidate workers.”

Amazon has defended its actions, saying in a statement to Insider that the “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.”

According to experts, the battle between Amazon and the RWDSU is playing out like many other union drives.

Companies are accused of illegal anti-union activity in more than 40% of union drives

Charges are filed accusing employers of illegal anti-union activity in 41.5% of all union election campaigns, according to the Economic Policy Institute. EPI did not track how many of these charges that the National Labor Relations Board ultimately found to be merited, resulting in further investigation.

“It’s fairly common for there to be unfair labor practice charges at the end of a contentious election like this,” John Logan, a labor and employment professor at San Francisco State University, previously told Insider.

Charges don’t prove a company has broken the law.

Once an unfair labor practice charge is filed, NLRB staff investigate the claim to determine whether it has enough merit to lodge a formal complaint against the employer. If the NLRB issues a complaint, the case then goes to a hearing unless a settlement is reached first.

This is how the process that will play out if the RWDSU follows through on filing unfair labor practice charges against Amazon related to the Alabama union drive.

According to Celine McNicholas, the director of government affairs at the Economic Policy Institute, the NLRB process is ineffective in clamping down on illegal anti-union activity, because punishments are relatively minor for violating related labor laws.

For example, if an employer illegally fires a worker for organizing, a company is only responsible for back pay – not further fines or damages.

“It’s a broken system,” McNicholas said. “There is very little reason not to push the envelope and risk a violation of the law.”

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