A federal labor official found that Amazon's anti-union tactics may have tainted last spring's voting process sufficiently to scrap its results. Workers had rejected unionization more than 2-to-1.



Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama may get a second chance to vote on whether to unionize. This is a breaking news development in the saga of a high-profile push to form the first unionized Amazon warehouse in America. NPR's Alina Selyukh is here to tell us about it.

Hey, Alina.


SHAPIRO: We've got to note that Amazon is one of NPR's financial supporters. Tell us what happened today.

SELYUKH: So today, a federal Labor official opened the door to a potential do-over of one of the most closely watched union elections. It happened this spring, you might recall, at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., right outside Birmingham. And it was huge because it was, by far, the biggest unionization push at Amazon in the U.S., where Amazon is now the second-largest private employer. It was also huge because the warehouse itself is huge - nearly 6,000 people, potentially a big inroad into this very influential company for the unions. And it was huge because the result was a stunning, overwhelming union defeat. The vote was held by mail because of the pandemic. And more than half of the warehouse staff cast ballots, and they voted against unionizing more than 2-1. But now today, a federal Labor official has found - I shouldn't say today. But now a federal Labor official has found that Amazon illegally pressured workers to vote no, saying that that tainted the previous election enough to scrap its results and let the workers vote again.

SHAPIRO: Tell us what led to this reevaluation.

SELYUKH: This is a recommendation from the National Labor Relations Board, which had a hearing after the union challenged the results of the vote. The voting in Alabama took several weeks. And then afterward, the union accused Amazon of putting a ton of pressure on workers over that time to vote against unionizing. At the hearing, workers described various mandatory anti-union meetings that Amazon held. But also a lot of focus was on a mail box that Amazon asked the Postal Service to install in the warehouse parking lot. Amazon says it wanted voting to be convenient, but workers testified that it made them feel like their vote was under surveillance. In a statement today, the union president said, quote, "Amazon cheated, and they got caught."

SHAPIRO: So what's Amazon's response to this latest development?

SELYUKH: Right, so Amazon is denying any wrongdoing. The company says it plans to appeal this recommendation of an election redo. They say workers have already spoken, and they voted overwhelmingly in favor of not having a union, and their voices should be heard above all else. That's a quote from Amazon. This is a really big fight for Amazon, so it's understandable that they will fight against it. Unions are prominent at Amazon in Europe. But so far, the company has fought off labor organizing here in the U.S. This election this year in Bessemer was the first union vote at Amazon since 2014. And back then, workers also voted against unionizing. And this is all happening as Amazon has grown tremendously. It is now, like I said, the second-largest private employer in the U.S. behind Walmart. They have nearly a million employees in the country.

SHAPIRO: So what happens next?

SELYUKH: Next, we wait a few weeks for a regional National Labor Relations Board director to rule whether to schedule that new election.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Alina Selyukh, thanks.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.