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May 26, 2022

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Amazon staff in Alabama will vote again on unionizing next month

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Amazon.com Inc. employees in Bessemer, Alabama, will vote by mail next month in a re-run election on whether to unionize, the National Labor Relations Board announced Tuesday.

Ballots will be mailed out Feb. 4 and must be received back before the counting begins on March 28, the agency said in an election notice.

The do-over comes as Amazon grapples with unprecedented labor unrest. A fledgling union founded by former and current Amazon workers is trying to unionize four facilities in Staten Island. Meanwhile, the Teamsters are looking to organize facilities in Canada.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, an affiliate of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, was defeated in a vote last year. But it appealed the results, alleging Amazon intimidated workers and pressured them to cast votes in a mailbox the company had installed in a tent on its property in view of security cameras. Amazon has denied the allegations.

The company handily won the previous election, which was held in early 2021. Of the more than 3,000 ballots cast, Amazon garnered 1,798 nos, and the union won 738 yeses. While federal officials set aside 505 contested ballots — most of them disputed by Amazon, according to the RWDSU — there weren’t enough of those to change the result.

“Our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they overwhelmingly chose not to join the RWDSU last year,” Amazon spokesperson Barbara M. Agrait said in an email Tuesday. “We look forward to our team in BHM1 having their voices heard again.”

It’s by no means certain that the union will prevail in the second vote. Union membership has been a tough sell in Bessemer, where Amazon’s wages and health benefits go much further than they do in pricier cities such as New York.

The RWDSU could benefit from a settlement the company reached in December with the NLRB that prohibits practices Amazon has allegedly used to make it more difficult for workers to organize. Under the deal, the company must inform past and current workers of their rights and is restricted from interfering with organizing on company property after hours.

Still, Amazon is expected to campaign fiercely, and the union said it was “deeply concerned” that the new election wouldn’t be fair.

“We proposed to the NLRB a number of remedies that could have made the process fairer to workers, which were not taken up in the Notice of Election issued today,” the RWDSU said in a statement. “Workers’ voices can and must be heard fairly, unencumbered by Amazon’s limitless power to control what must be a fair and free election, and we will continue to hold them accountable for their actions.”

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