Amazon Union Battles Sees Objections Flying on Both Sides

Amazon JFK8 exterior feature

Amazon fulfillment center on Staten Island, NY (credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Amazon is challenging a union vote at a distribution center in Staten Island, NY, saying it should be thrown out due to illegal coercion on the part of the union, and the manner in which the election was held, the New York Times said based on a National Labor Relations Board filing.

“We’re disappointed that Amazon is attempting to overturn the democratic voice of over 2,600 of its own workers,” said Cassio Mendoza, a union organizer at JFK8, according to the NYT. “The entire world knows that the workers won our election and we look forward to sitting down with Amazon in May to negotiate a fair contract for the workers at JFK8.”

On the other side and further south, the union seeking to represent workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, AL allege once again that Amazon illegally interfered in a re-vote there, filing 21 objections with the NLRB. Amazon is filing complaints in that contest as well, the results of which are still up for grabs as more than 400 votes are in dispute, with the union trailing.

Meanwhile, Chris Smalls, president of the Amazon Workers Union in Staten Island told Yahoo News he’s heard from employees at more than 100 Amazon facilities across the country who have expressed an interest in organizing, saying he would visit and support them.

Bottom line, both cases are far from settled and it will take a good deal of legal wrangling and federal oversight before we find out if unions have taken root in the heart of Amazon’s massive operations. Amazon meanwhile is taking steps to hedge against the possibility of sweeping unionization, having invested $200 million in Velodyne, whose LIDAR sensors can help the company step up automation of its facilities. Amazon also gained a seat on Velodyne’s board.

Amazon’s 25-point challenge to the Staten Island result included mention of offering “free weed and food” constituted “an impermissible grant of support” for workers, and of union supporters disrupting mandatory anti-union meetings. The retail and online giant also took a shot at the NLRB itself, saying its actions indicated a tilt toward the union cause, which the agency denied.

In Bessemer, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) is asking the NLRB’s regional director to schedule a hearing to consider tossing out the election results “because conduct by the employer created an atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals and thus interfered with the employees’ freedom of choice,” the union stated. Actions called out included acts of retaliation against, surveillance of and in some instances termination of pro-union employees.