Marble Falls Yes, the behemoth e-commerce giant Amazon lost an election to an upstart, rag tag independent rank-and-file union, the Amazon Labor Union, in recent weeks, but don’t think for a minute that this fiercely anti-union company is ready to say uncle and respect the wishes of a majority of their workers in their Staten Island warehouse. None of this is surprising of course, but many might need a scorecard to understand the back-and-forth now between the company, its workers, and unions.
After workers vote to be represented by a union, the NLRB issues a certification. At that point, the union would normally reach out to the company, make an information request, and propose dates for collective bargaining. The losing side has a limited amount of time to file objections if they believe that they have evidence that the election was not conducted under “laboratory conditions” of fairness untainted by violations of the Act that would have favored the winning side. Any appeals to the NLRB or courts will delay certification.
In the Bessemer, Alabama election, both sides filed objections seeking potentially to overturn the elections accusing each other of unfair labor practices. Such a course was necessary, since the number of challenge ballots is large enough to determine who really won and lost. An NLRB hearing will be held to sort out the which votes should be counted. Once that happens, those votes found eligible will produce a final tally. Since neither party can be sure, both had to file.
In Staten Island, where Amazon lost by a significant margin, their objections amount to throwing the kitchen sink at the union. Their key argument though is that when the NLRB filed a 10(j) injunction in the weeks before the election for reinstatement of a worker allegedly fired for union activity the NLRB became not a neutral party, but an advocate of the union. When the NLRB filed for the injunction, they claimed they did so because to not file sent a message favoring the company and painting the NLRB as a limp stick when it comes to enforcing the Act.
It’s unlikely that Amazon will prevail, and its lawyers surely know that. At one level that’s because the margin of victory was large enough that even some mischief would have been unlikely to alter the result. More importantly perhaps, in a recent nationwide settlement on six consolidated cases negotiated by the NLRB, the company agreed that further unfair labor practices gave the NLRB the right to immediately go into court to seek an injunction without the normal procedure of a hearing and the months and months that can involve. For the NLRB’s administrative law judge to rule that the NLRB tainted the election by implementing a course of action both the company and the Board agreed as part of an earlier settlement is not going to happen.
Why is the company playing hardball when it knows its chances of succeeding are so slim? This question is much easier to answer. First, they want to take the steam out of the ALU’s victory with delays, because now they have a number of bites at that apple that can stretch out for years and years, including to the Supreme Court. Secondly, the ALU has another Amazon warehouse election petition pending, and there’s no way the company is going to let those workers believe its union time at Amazon. Reportedly, the ALU has heard from scores of workers in other plants around the country as well, and of course Bessemer is still up in the air, so thirdly, the company wants to put a pin in all those balloons if it can.
The bottom line for Amazon workers and all of us who support their drive to get decent working conditions is that we are in the early rounds of this fight, so we need to remain ever vigilant and stay ready to support workers for the whole struggle, not just a simple vote count.