Earlier this year, Amazon.com Inc handily defeated a historic union drive at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. But with the prospect of another vote looming, the online retailer is leaving nothing to chance. Over the past few weeks, Amazon has ramped up its campaign at the warehouse, forcing thousands of employees to attend meetings, posting signs critical of labor groups in bathrooms, and flying in staff from the West Coast, according to interviews and documents seen by Reuters. It is an indication that Amazon is sticking to its aggressive playbook. In August, a U.S. National Labor Relations Board hearing officer said the company's conduct around the previous vote interfered with the Bessemer union election. An NLRB regional director's decision on whether to order a new vote is forthcoming. Amazon has denied wrongdoing and said it wanted employees' voices to be heard. Still, the moves to discourage unionization ahead of any second election, previously unreported, show how Amazon is fighting representation at its U.S. worksites.
An uptick in labor activity since workers in April rejected joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), including organizing drives in New York and Canada, has pushed Amazon to react. Other prominent unions like the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are also vowing to organize Amazon. The risk: unions could alter how Amazon manages its vast, finely tuned operation and drive up costs at a time when a labor shortage is taking a toll on its profit. Wilma Liebman, a former NLRB chair, said the stakes are high. "They really, really fear any toe in the door to unionization," Liebman said. "There's nothing like a win, and a win can be contagious." In a statement, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said a union "will impact everyone at the site so it's important all employees understand what that means for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon." In the new campaign, Amazon has dedicated a week of mandatory meetings to warn staff that unions will force them to strike and forgo pay, a nod to the recent stoppages roiling workplaces across the country.