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Amazon workers seeking to unionize could get lift from labor board settlement

A settlement between Amazon and the National Labor Relations Board comes nearly a month after a regional NLRB director said Amazon illegally interfered with an Alabama union vote.

Amazon delivery and return
James Martin/CNET

Amazon workers who want to organize unions now have an easier path. The National Labor Relations Board has reached a settlement with the online giant that allows workers to "form, join, or assist a union," pick representatives to bargain on their behalf, and "act together with other employees" for worker "benefit and protection."

Amazon warehouse employees will also no longer be forced to leave "non-working areas" 15 minutes before or after they start their shifts. 

"Whether a company has 10 employees or a million employees, it must abide by the National Labor Relations Act," Jennifer Abruzzo, general counsel for the NLRB, said Thursday in a statement. "This settlement agreement provides a crucial commitment from Amazon to millions of its workers across the United States that it will not interfere with their right to act collectively to improve their workplace by forming a union or taking other collective action.

"Working people should know that the National Labor Relations Board will vigorously seek to ensure Amazon's compliance with the settlement and continue to defend the labor rights of all workers."

News of the agreement was revealed Thursday following a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The New York Times. It comes nearly a month after an NLRB regional director disqualified the results of a failed union vote at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama. The decision was based in part on a mailbox that Amazon placed near the entrance of the facility alongside signs that told workers to vote. 

Regional director Lisa Henderson wrote in her 20-page ruling that by placing the mailbox and signs, Amazon had installed its own ballot collection box, which is against NLRB protocols as it suggests that the company is running the election. The mailbox was also placed in the view of multiple security cameras. 

In a statement provided to CNET at the time, Amazon said it was disappointed in the decision and reiterated that it believes unions won't benefit its employees. The company didn't address the complaints that it broke labor laws in the lead-up to the vote. 

Amazon didn't immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.