Labor regulator accuses Amazon of intimidation as union drives move forward

Amazon broke labor laws in Staten Island, prosecutors for the National Labor Relations Board say. A union wants a controversial mailbox removed in Alabama.

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Laura Hautala
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The allegations reportedly center on an Amazon consultant who interrogated workers on their union support and called the union's leaders "thugs."

Ronny Hartmann/Getty Images

Amazon interrogated and surveilled warehouse workers in Staten Island, where some workers are seeking to form a union, prosecutors for the National Labor Relations Board said in a complaint Wednesday. The allegations come one day after the agency said the warehouse workers have collected enough signatures to move forward with a union election. 

According to Bloomberg, the NLRB complaint alleges that an Amazon consultant promised to fix problems for workers if they opposed the union and called the workers leading the union push "thugs." 

"Workers have the right under federal labor law to join and form unions and employers are prohibited from interfering with that right," said Kathy Drew King, the director of NLRB region 29, where the complaint originated. "The complaint seeks to stop and remedy this unlawful conduct to ensure that Amazon's employees can freely and fairly exercise their rights under the National Labor Relations Act."

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the allegations are false, adding, "we look forward to showing that through this process."

The situation isn't Amazon's only union battle. In a separate organizing drive in Alabama, a union asked the labor board Wednesday to make Amazon get rid of a mailbox that the agency previously ruled tainted a union election last year. A redo election is scheduled for early February. 

The two union pushes are part of a surge of labor activism at Amazon warehouses, none of which are unionized in the US. Employees work 10- to 12-hour shifts that involve sustained physical exertion, and investigations have revealed high rates of injuries at Amazon warehouses compared to other logistics companies. Workers report not having enough time to rest or go to the bathroom, and rest periods are curtailed by the need to walk long distances to break rooms and bathrooms, multiple lawsuits have alleged.

The union in Staten Island, called the Amazon Labor Union, is a new organization run by current and former Amazon workers. The ALU didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

"We just hope that Amazon is held accountable," ALU leader Chris Smalls told Bloomberg. "We hope that other union-busters as well learn their lesson and that workers are encouraged to speak up."

In Alabama, the repeat union election will proceed with mail-in ballots. Workers rejected the union, called the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, by a wide margin in 2021. However, the director of the NLRB's Region 10 ruled that Amazon illegally interfered with the process and threw out the results. 

The official, Lisa Henderson, found fault with Amazon's installation of a plain metal mailbox with a tent surrounding it on three signs and the company's anti-union slogan hanging on the tent. The mailbox created the impression of a voting booth and could have misled workers into thinking Amazon was in charge of running the election, she found.

On Wednesday, the RWDSU filed a request for review of Henderson's plan for the second election, which didn't require Amazon to completely remove its mailbox. The mailbox has been moved to another side of the building and no longer has the tent or signage around it, an RWDSU spokesperson said, but added that the union believes it shouldn't be there at all.

"This whole election was overturned because of the mailbox," Darryl Richardson, a pro-union worker at the Bessemer warehouse, said at a virtual press conference. "I don't understand why it's still out there."

The election will proceed while the review is pending, the union said.