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Amazon earns hearing, placing Staten Island union vote in jeopardy

After an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, JFK-8, voted to unionize in April, the company quickly objected to the results. Now, the National Labor Relations Board is giving the e-commerce giant a chance to plead its case.

The NLRB has stated that Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) grievances with the Staten Island vote are sufficient to warrant a hearing that could overturn the result, according to multiple reports citing an NLRB filing submitted Friday.

Both Amazon and the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), the entity responsible for organizing the JFK-8 union drive as well as a vote at a second Staten Island warehouse across the street, LDJ-5, will be able to present testimony beginning May 23. The first warehouse union victory in Amazon’s 28-year history now hangs in the balance.

The granting of a hearing is the latest development in a prolonged battle between the e-commerce superpower, the NLRB and the ALU, with JFK-8 and another Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, serving as its two main theaters.

The start of the tensions at the Staten Island facility can be traced back nearly two years. Things first got dicey when the NLRB sued Amazon for the termination of Gerald Bryson, a worker at JFK-8 who was let go after being involved in a protest at the start of the pandemic.

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Amazon claimed the firing was due to Bryson’s use of vulgar language in a confrontation during the protest. The NLRB, however, thought differently. So did the courts — a judge last month sided with the board, ordering that Bryson be reinstated and that Amazon pay him for lost wages.

A hearing for that suit took place a little over a month ago, just weeks before JFK-8 voted to unionize with the ALU. Amazon, though, swiftly pushed back against the results, filing 25 objections with the NLRB, including allegations of coercion and intimidation by ALU organizers. 

Crucially, Amazon was also able to get the case moved. It was transferred to the NLRB’s Phoenix office last month after the massive marketplace accused the board’s Brooklyn office of supporting the union drive, according to an NLRB filing.

Cornele Overstreet, the Phoenix office’s director, is now in charge. And on Friday, Overstreet said in an NLRB filing that evidence supporting Amazon’s claims “could be grounds for overturning the election.”

Overstreet did not specify which of Amazon’s claims might hold water. But he did indicate that the hearing process beginning later this month could take weeks. After that, an NLRB hearing officer will recommend whether or not to uphold the vote.

Eric Milner, an attorney for the ALU, told Reuters that the bar to get a hearing with the NLRB is “very low,” adding that, “while the ALU is disappointed in any delay by Amazon in its bargaining obligations, we remain confident that all of Amazon’s objections will ultimately be overruled.”

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Amazon, though, is dubious. Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in a statement, “We’ve always said that we want our employees to have their voices heard, and in this case, that didn’t happen – fewer than a third of the employees at the site voted for the union, and overall turnout was unusually low.”

Amazon in April told Politico that JFK-8 had roughly 8,300 employees, of which 2,654 — around 32% — voted in favor of joining the ALU. In total, 4,785 employees participated in the vote, a 57% rate which is in line with the turnout for the vote at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse. There, a little over 3,000 of the facility’s approximately 5,800 workers took part in the election.

“On April 22, we filed evidence supporting our objections which we believe will demonstrate that the actions of the Region and the ALU improperly suppressed and influenced the vote,” Nantel added. “We’re pleased the NLRB granted the hearing and we look forward to that next step.”

Neither the ALU nor the NLRB immediately responded to Modern Shipper’s request for comment.

As the ALU contends with the hearing, it will need to walk and chew gum at the same time. LDJ-5 last week held its own vote on unionizing with the ALU. The votes of that election are being tallied, and the NLRB anticipates the count will be completed Monday evening.

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