In Amazon union election, votes cast by some ineligible former employees could tip the result

(Reuters) – Although Emily Stone’s job at an Amazon.com Inc warehouse ended on February 1, she still received a union election ballot from her old company within weeks. which followed his departure and a text asking him to vote no.

FILE PHOTO: Aerial view of Amazon factory where workers will vote on whether to unionize, in Bessemer, Alabama, USA, March 5, 2021. Photo taken with a drone. REUTERS / Dustin Rooms

The union “will make a lot of promises, but have they kept those promises? read another text alert she received from Bessemer, the Alabama warehouse branch, seen by Reuters. She remembered thinking, “I can’t figure out how to get them to stop texting me.”

Stone, 25, said she decided not to return the ballot because she no longer worked for Amazon. The company had refused to extend her paid time off after contracting COVID-19 in November, which sent her to hospital, she said.

She is not alone. Reuters spoke or texted 19 people that Amazon signed up to receive a ballot for the election, even though they no longer work at the company. At least two of them have already voted, they told Reuters.

Election conditions, however, state that workers who resign or are fired for cause after a pay period ending Jan. 9 are not eligible to vote, according to a ruling by the acting regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ( NLRB) of the United States in Atlanta. This group of Amazon workers – those who left after the January pay period but still ended up on the NLRB voters list – could become a sticking point for the company and the union.

The NLRB requires Amazon to distribute an election notice advising employees that they would become ineligible under these circumstances. It is not clear whether all of the workers who received ballots were aware of the restriction, which was detailed in one sentence of the five-page document.

The NLRB region did not send out ballots until February 8. The documents were sent to workers on a list provided by Amazon based on the January pay period. In the weeks that followed, some of the workers contacted in the NLRB mail had left the company. The ballots of these former employees, if submitted, may be challenged by Amazon, the union or the labor council during the vote count, depending on the election notice.

Reuters could not determine the total number of Amazon employees who received ballots in this ineligible category.

Ballots sent to former employees could spark a vote-counting battle between the company and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which aims to be the first to host one of Amazon’s facilities in the United States. United States, a person familiar with union strategy said.

The RWDSU could challenge hundreds of names as ineligible to vote in a campaign open to more than 5,800 workers, the person said. Amazon declined to say whether it plans to challenge names based on the eligibility rules.

If the election is near, those contested ballots could tip the outcome, helping to encourage – or deter – future labor organizing at America’s second-largest private employer after Walmart Inc.

RWDSU chairman Stuart Appelbaum said he did not know when the results would be halted in Bessemer. He added: “We have heard from over 1,000 Amazon workers who want to know if their warehouse could be next” to try to organize.

In a statement, Amazon said, “Our goal is for as many of our employees as possible to vote.” A regional labor council official referred Reuters to the U.S. NLRB, which declined to comment on the eligibility to vote of former employees or possible challenges to the election result.

“I felt it was unfair”

Amazon has long discouraged attempts to organize among its more than 800,000 U.S. employees, including showing managers how to spot union activity, raising wages and warning of union dues that take it away, according to an earlier training video , the company’s union election website and public statements. These tactics, along with allegations by some staff members of a grueling or dangerous workplace, have made organizing Amazon a central goal for the U.S. labor movement.

Amazon said it follows all NLRB rules and wants staff to understand each side of the contest.

He said, “We don’t think RWDSU represents the majority of our employees’ views. Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available anywhere we hire, ‘citing health benefits, a 50% 401 (k) match and at least $ 15.30 per hour of pay at Bessemer.

Union membership fell to 11% of the eligible workforce in 2020, from 20% in 1983, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

Ballots are examined from March 30. Before the count begins, Amazon or the union can challenge the eligibility of any voter or the integrity of a ballot. The uncontested ballots are then counted. If there is no clear winner, the NLRB will rule on the disputed ballots at a later date.

One name that could be disputed is that of Denean Plott. The 56-year-old associate said she left Amazon this month after having to retrieve merchandise “every seven seconds” from bins to fulfill customer orders. “It was a little too exhausting for my body,” she said.

“In February, I went ahead and voted early,” she said in an interview. She was on leave after testing positive for COVID-19 at the time. “I voted for the union.

Five other people no longer at Amazon, including Ethan Dagnan, told Reuters they had not returned their ballots.

“I had it the week before I left,” said Dagnan, 18, noting that he quit working at Amazon in February. “I just chose not to vote because I felt it was unfair.”

“VOTE NOW AND VOTE ‘NO'”

Amazon has relied on its outside law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP to fight unionization, said John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University.

In a May 2020 slide presentation on the firm’s website that accompanied a public webinar, lawyers for Morgan Lewis told employers: “Unions are capitalizing on fears of the COVID-19 virus. Lawyers also suggested that companies prepare a pitch before any NLRB review for holding or delaying in-person union elections.

They warned employers that postal voting can increase the risk of misconduct.

Late last year, Amazon also hired an in-house labor lawyer for Morgan Lewis and looked for additional lawyers who could help it with “organizing campaigns,” according to LinkedIn data and job offers. jobs viewed by Reuters. Lawyer Meredith Riccio did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Morgan Lewis declined to comment on his work for Amazon and his public advice to employers facing potential union campaigns. In a January public file calling for a review of the NLRB’s regional director’s decision to hold the Bessemer election by mail, the firm’s lawyers argued on behalf of Amazon that an in-person election could be safely conducted. with pandemic protocols for employees, NLRB agents and union observers. Amazon workers are already in the facility every day, they said in the filing. The NLRB denied Amazon’s request.

As for Morgan Lewis, Amazon said hiring subject matter experts in all areas is standard practice. He also highlighted a decision by the NLRB noting that on-site elections have higher staff turnout than postal elections.

Companies often want more employees to vote, as this can dilute union support and make it more difficult for them to gain the majority needed to win an election, said Logan, professor at San State University. Francisco.

The online retailer encouraged workers to vote in text messages some received after leaving the company. When asked why, he said he was reaching out to workers on leave to answer their questions about the election.

“Don’t stay on the sidelines,” a February 14 text message read to Alifah Furqan. “Vote now and vote ‘NO’. “

Furqan said she had left eight days earlier. Reuters reviewed five campaign texts Amazon sent Furqan after she resigned, including one telling her to vote “now” and another directing her to a mailbox the Postal Service set up in the warehouse.

Furqan refused.

“I knew if I didn’t work for the company my vote wouldn’t count,” she said. Furqan said she was not familiar with an official rule that could disqualify her ballot, but felt that voting after leaving the company would be unethical. “I didn’t want to put a key in there because I’m for the union.”

Warehouse management, meanwhile, warned staff that collective bargaining posed risks for workers, according to a January 13 text alert viewed by Reuters. The negotiations could result in workers losing their benefits, according to the text, which the union contested.

“Everything is on the table,” declared the text.

Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco and Mike Spector in New York; Additional reporting by Tom Polansek; edited by Vanessa O’Connell, Grant McCool and Edward Tobin


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