Amazon is fighting a decision by the National Labor Board that requires a union election at an Alabama facility to be conducted by universal mail in voting. You probably have not read – much less heard — about it. It barely garnered attention from the Wall Street Journal, which mentioned it at the bottom third of an interior section of its weekend edition. But Amazon’s objections are rich with irony.
Employees at an Amazon facility in Alabama are seeking to be represented by the Retail Whole and Department Store Union (yes, there is such a thing). Under federal labor law, most private sector employees can seek to be represented by a union (public sector employees are governed by state laws). The process by which employees can seek unionization is a surprisingly uncomplicated affair. It’s not much different from a local school board election or even the election of student body president. It begins with pro-union employees circulating a petition for unionization. If they obtain the signatures of 30% or more of eligible employees, they can take that petition to the Nation Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that regulates and conducts union elections — which will then begin the process of conducting a union election.
The run up to a standard unionization vote is like that of any other election. Both sides advocate for their respective positions replete with speeches, campaign literature, and paraphernalia. On election day, eligible employees complete a simple ballot, checking “yes” or “no” to the question of unionization, and place the ballot in a secret and secure ballot box. All of this is overseen by agents from the Labor Board.
This is how the process worked up until 2020, at least. Then came Covid-19. In response to the pandemic, the Labor Board ruled that mail-in voting could be an appropriate substitute for in person voting in certain circumstances. In Amazon’s case, the regional director of the Labor Board overseeing the Alabama election ordered that election be conducted by a universal mail-in ballot, with ballots mailed to the roughly 6,000 eligible employees at the facility. Amazon has objected and appealed the decision to the Labor Board in Washington, which is still controlled by Republicans.
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Amazon has the right to be concerned. Like their political cousins, union elections can be raucous, high-stakes affairs replete with claims of voter intimidation, suppression, and fraud. To help prevent this, Amazon correctly says “the best approach to an election would be conducting it in person.”
But therein lies the irony. Amazon is among the companies who announced a “pause” of political donations to those that “opposed the results of the 2020” election. Many if not most of those objections are based on massive mail-in voting and a corresponding increased potential for fraud. To be fair, Amazon has not singled out certain elected officials by name, and is currently favoring a more general freeze on donations to political action committees until it conducts a review.
But it is also fair to ponder whether Amazon’s review of elected officials’ positions on the 2020 election includes those who merely raised questions about the process and methods used in the 2020 election, including chiefly, universal mail in voting.
A call for “unity” is the slogan du jour among the corporate and political classes. Perhaps we would best be served by a call for intellectual honesty and consistency.
Wally Zimolong, Esquire is a veteran trial lawyer who has acted as lead plaintiff or defense counsel in nearly 500 cases. He has tried numerous cases to verdict and boasts an undefeated jury trial record. @WallyZimolong.