NEW YORK -- The National Labor Relations Board has ordered a new union election for Amazon workers in Bessemer, Ala., based on objections to the first vote that took place in April.
The move, announced Monday, is seen as a major blow to Amazon, which had spent about a year aggressively campaigning for warehouse workers in Bessemer to reject the union, which they ultimately did by a wide margin. The board has not yet determined the date for the second election.
The rare call for a do-over was first announced Monday by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which spearheaded the union organizing movement.
In a 20-page decision, the regional director for the NLRB focused much attention on Amazon's installation of a U.S. Postal Service mailbox at the main employee entrance, which may have created the false impression that the company was the one conducting the election process. The regional director also rebutted Amazon's position that it was making voting easier and was trying to encourage as high a turnout as possible.
"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," according to the decision. "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. This dangerous and improper message to employees destroys trust in the board's processes and in the credibility of the election results."
The union charged Amazon with illegal conduct during the first vote. In August, the hearing officer at the labor relations board who presided over the case determined that Amazon violated labor law and recommended that the regional director set aside the results and direct another election.
About 53% of the nearly 6,000 workers cast ballots during the first election.
Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, called the decision "disappointing."
"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," she said. "It's disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn't count."
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the union, saw the board's decision as a victory.
"Today's decision 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 -- and as the regional director has indicated, that is both unacceptable and illegal, " he said in a statement. "Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union."
But even with a second election, labor experts say a union victory is a long shot. Amazon will likely appeal and try to delay another vote. And even when an election is held, workers may choose to vote against joining a union again. Last time around, 1,798 workers rejected the union and 738 voted in favor of it.
A repeat of the election means another battle for Amazon with the union. The first election garnered nationwide attention and put a spotlight on how Amazon treats its workers. It was the biggest union push in Amazon's history and only the second time that an organizing effort from within the company had come to a vote.