Leaders of the effort to unionize workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center were outraged following the revelation Thursday that the tech titan pressured the United States Postal Service into installing a private mailbox outside the warehouse just as employees began voting on the measure.
“By doing this, they could then pressure and monitor employees to submit ‘no’ votes. In short, Amazon violated a directive from the federal government when it placed a mail ballot drop box at the entrance of its Alabama warehouse.”
—More Perfect Union
Last month, the advocacy group More Perfect Union first accused Amazon of violating federal labor law by having a mailbox installed outside the Alabama facility in order to collect the ballots of employees voting on the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU)-led effort to unionize the warehouse’s 5,805 workers.
As the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) began counting votes Thursday, More Perfect Union published emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that show Amazon pressing USPS to install what the group called “an illegal ballot drop box during the union election.”
Although the emails are heavily redacted, More Perfect Union learned that starting a month before the Bessemer warehouse workers began casting their ballots, Amazon officials repeatedly called USPS’ strategic account manager seeking the installation of a private box.
Huge scoop here: Amazon pressured the USPS to install a private mailbox at its facility so they could pressure workers to bring their ballots to work, enabling them to monitor for no votes. This election is tainted and these executives should be investigated https://t.co/3THds9y8qv
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) April 8, 2021
After considering the request, USPS informed Amazon that a “private box may not be utilized.” However, after further consideration, the Postal Service decided to grant the company—its largest corporate client—the request. On February 3, USPS emailed Amazon officials saying it would send a manager to the Bessemer facility “to find an ideal location” for the mailbox “that is near the employee entrance.”
That same day, Amazon demanded that the Postal Service install the mailbox by February 7—one day before the warehouse workers began voting. USPS replied that “maintenance will complete the installation by Monday” February 8.
More Perfect Union said that “the mailbox was critical for Amazon’s strategy because it wanted to pressure employees to bring ballots to work that they’d received at home in the mail.”
“By doing this, they could then pressure and monitor employees to submit ‘no’ votes,” the group said. “In short, Amazon violated a directive from the federal government when it placed a mail ballot drop box at the entrance of its Alabama warehouse.”
The mailbox, which bore no USPS identification, was installed inside a tent in a parking lot outside the warehouse, with a banner reading, “Speak for yourself! Mail your ballot here.”
The Washington Post—which is owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos—reports one of the reasons why the mailbox is so controversial is that NLRB, which is supervising the Bessemer unionization vote, had denied the company’s request to install boxes at the facility, citing concerns for worker safety amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum accused Amazon of voter intimidation.
“Even though the NLRB definitively denied Amazon’s request for a drop box on the warehouse property, Amazon felt it was above the law and worked with the Postal Service anyway to install one,” Appelbaum said in a statement reported by the Post. “They did this because it provided a clear ability to intimidate workers.”
Officials from both the USPS and Amazon denied any nefarious intentions behind the box’s placement.
USPS spokesperson David Partenheimer told the Post that the drop box was “suggested by the Postal Service as a solution to provide an efficient and secure delivery and collection point,” with Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox adding that “this mailbox—which only the USPS had access to—was a simple, secure, and completely optional way to make it easy for employees to vote, no more and no less.”
According to RWDSU, a total of 3,215 ballots were received from Amazon’s Bessemer workers. NPR reports that as of Thursday evening, the unofficial vote count stood at 1,100 against unionizing and 463 in favor.