In a rare move, the National Labor Relations Board has ordered a union election do-over for Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama.
A date has not yet been determined for the second vote, but the looming new union election comes as the labor movement has gained new steam in recent months, propelled by unique market conditions and increased workplace activism seen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the initial election in April, Amazon warehouse workers overwhelmingly voted against forming a union at the Bessemer warehouse despite high-profile support for unionization at the time from lawmakers and even President Joe Biden.
The order for a new election stands unless Amazon files a request for review with the NLRB, which the board could reject (allowing the second union election to proceed) or grant (which would reverse the order for a second election). It also has not yet been determined whether the do-over vote will be in-person or by mail.
The re-run decision comes after the objections to the initial vote last April that were filed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which sought to represent the workers.
At the core of the union's objections was Amazon's installation of a Postal Service box outside the warehouse, which they said was aimed to make voting easier and improve turnout, but the union argued gave the impression that Amazon oversaw the election.
"The Employer's flagrant disregard for the Board's typical mail-ballot procedure compromised the authority of the Board and made a free and fair election impossible," NLRB Regional Director Lisa Henderson wrote in her decision calling for a second election.
"By installing a postal mailbox at the main employee entrance, the Employer essentially highjacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process," Henderson added. "This dangerous and improper message to employees destroys trust in the Board's processes and in the credibility of the election results."
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, welcomed the board's decision in a statement, saying it "confirms what we were saying all along -- that Amazon's intimidation and interference prevented workers from having a fair say in whether they wanted a union in their workplace."
"Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union," he added.
Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, called the decision "disappointing" in a statement, adding that the company believes in the benefits of direct relationships with employees without a union in the middle.
"Our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they overwhelmingly chose not to join the RWDSU earlier this year. It's disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn't count," Nantel said. "As a company, we don't think unions are the best answer for our employees. Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes -- quickly."
"That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle. The benefits of direct relationships between managers and employees can't be overstated -- these relationships allow every employee's voice to be heard, not just the voices of a select few," Nantel added. "While we've made great progress in important areas like pay and safety, we know there are plenty of things that we can keep doing better, both in our fulfillment centers and in our corporate offices, and that's our focus -- to work directly with our employees to keep getting better every day."
Union membership has dwindled in recent decades, falling to 10.8% in 2020 among salaried and wage-earning workers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1983, the first year the BLS collected this data, that figure was 20.1%.
Despite the slumping figures, approval for labor unions in the U.S. is at its highest level since 1965, according to Gallup data. Some 68% of Americans approve of labor unions in 2021, the highest recorded by Gallup since a 71% mark in 1965.
Some labor economists have attributed this gap between support for unions and union membership rates to increased employer resistance to unionization and outdated labor laws that make it difficult to organize in the workplace.