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Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama will get another chance to unionize

<i>Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images</i><br/>In an aerial view from a drone
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Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images
In an aerial view from a drone

By Chris Isidore, CNN Business

Workers at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, will have another chance to unionize after a federal labor official called for a new vote Monday.

The ruling by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board was made public Monday. It follows an earlier recommendation from an NLRB hearing officer that there was enough misconduct by Amazon during the election to justify a new vote.

The first vote, held in April, fell well short of the support the union needed to win the right to represent nearly 6,000 workers there.

“Today’s decision confirms what we were saying all along — that Amazon’s intimidation and interference prevented workers from having a fair say in whether they wanted a union in their workplace — and as the regional director has indicated, that is both unacceptable and illegal,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the union seeking to represent nearly 6,000 workers at the warehouse. “Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union.”

The regional director found that actions by Amazon amounted to “flagrant disregard” of the rules for conducting a vote, and “made a free and fair election impossible.” Among the issues in the complaints was a mailbox at the entrance to the warehouse near signs that encouraged employees to cast ballots opposing the union.

The director also found that the company engaged in an extensive campaign of interrogating workers with respect to their support for the union “thereby interfering with their rights to an election free of coercion and interference.”

Amazon expressed disappointment in the decision and vowed to continue its efforts to defeat the union.

“Our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they overwhelmingly chose not to join the RWDSU earlier this year,” said Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel. “It’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count.”

Amazon has argued that the union would make it more difficult to improve work conditions at this and other Amazon locations.

“As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees,” said Nantel. “While we’ve made great progress in important areas like pay and safety, we know there are plenty of things that we can keep doing better, both in our fulfillment centers and in our corporate offices, and that’s our focus—to work directly with our employees to keep getting better every day.”

The effort to organize Amazon workers has become a key focus for US labor unions, with several targeting the company. The RWDSU was the first union to get enough support at an Amazon location to hold a vote.

But the effort lost badly in the April election, with 738 votes were cast for the union and 1,798 votes against. There were also 505 ballots that were challenged by one side or the other, but that was not enough to change the outcome of the vote.

A date for the new election has not yet been set.

Unions have become more active both in going on strike and participating in organizing efforts in recent months, helped partly by a tight labor market which has made it more difficult for employers to find new workers and easier for workers to find new jobs if they are not satisfied with work conditions.

A record number of workers, both organized and non-union, have quit their jobs in recent months, and the number of strikes is increasing.

But unions have lost much of the clout they once had when they represented workers employed at what were then the major industries in the United States. Only 6% of US workers today are members of a union, according to the Labor Department, down from 17% in 1983, the first year that union membership was tracked by the agency.

The union organizing effort in Bessemer is not the only one taking place at Amazon. Members of an independent union have filed cards signed by employees of Amazon facilities on Staten Island, New York, requesting an election there. And several other unions, including the Teamsters, have organizing campaigns underway at other Amazon facilities.

Amazon is one of the richest companies in the country, with $40.7 billion in cash on its most recent balance sheet, and a market value of $1.8 trillion, putting it behind only Apple, Microsoft, and Google parent Alphabet. It also has grown to one of the largest employers in the US private sector. Nantel said last month that Amazon had more than 900,000 US employees, with none of them represented by a union.

— CNN Business’ Sara Ashley O’Brien contributed to this report

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