Amazon reportedly pressured the United States Postal Service to expedite the installation of a mailbox outside of its Bessemer, Alabama warehouse ahead of a high-profile union vote, a move union supporters argue is a blatant tactic to intimidate employees.
That’s according to a series of internal USPS emails obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is campaigning to represent roughly 5,800 workers at Amazon’s facility. If Amazon wins the election, the RWDSU could use these emails to build its case challenging the results, as the Washington Post notes. The counting is still underway, but of the 3,215 ballots submitted, roughly half have been counted as of Thursday evening, with 1,100 votes against unionization and 463 votes in support, per an unofficial tally confirmed by the New York Times.
The RWDSU previously issued complaints about the mailbox after the Postal Service installed it in February just before the start of the warehouse’s mail-in balloting process. It argued Amazon was intentionally trying to mislead workers into thinking the company played a part in tallying the votes, and the box was just the latest move in Amazon’s extensive campaign of intimidation tactics. The mailbox’s placement could also run afoul of the National Labor Relations Board, which previously rejected Amazon’s bid to place ballot boxes at the warehouse so workers could vote in person. (The NLRB opted instead for a mail-in ballot system, citing concerns about potential surveillance by Amazon higher-ups along with worker safety amid the covid-19 pandemic).
The emails were heavily redacted in the Postal Service’s response, which the RWDSU shared with Gizmodo, but it’s clear that Amazon repeatedly needled the agency about setting up a collection box at its warehouse and had an exact deadline in mind: Feb. 7, just days ahead of the seven-week balloting process.
On Jan. 8, a USPS account manager wrote to an Alabama colleague to inquire about how quickly a collection box could be installed for Amazon at its Bessemer warehouse. The manager adds that a person, whose name was redacted, “at Amazon HQ would like to [be] kept in the loop on this progress.”
“We have not heard anything back on the install of this collection box,” the manager followed up on Jan. 14. “Amazon is reaching out again to me today about the status as they wanted to move quickly on this.”
Six days later, they sent another email saying they’d just learned that “Amazon’s expected set up date for this collection box is February 7, 2021.”
In their responses, USPS officials initially express concern that there may not be enough volume to warrant moving a box to that location in accordance with the agency’s parameters. In a Feb. 1 email, an official estimates the approval and installation process will take “a minimum of 4-6 weeks.” However, a mailbox was placed in the parking lot in front of Amazon’s Alabama warehouse roughly a week later, just in time for voting.
These emails also appear to contradict what the USPS told the Washington Post on the subject last month: That the Postal Service, and not Amazon, first came up with the idea of setting up a box at the warehouse. In a statement to the outlet, USPS spokesperson David Partenheimer claimed the box was “suggested by the Postal Service as a solution to provide an efficient and secure delivery and collection point.”
The RWDSU claims that Amazon used the mailbox, which is one of those nondescript units you see in apartment complexes or condos and thus lacks any markings to indicate that it is property of the Postal Service, in tandem with its campaign encouraging employees to submit their mail-in ballots at work in a bid to confuse and intimidate workers. The argument goes that some may have assumed Amazon held a role in conducting the election, and, by extension, Amazon could single out which employees supported union efforts based on who resisted using the mailbox, since it could reasonably be assumed they were acting out of fear of retaliation.
These emails prove, yet again, just how far Amazon is willing to go to resist unionization efforts, RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum said.
“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,” said Appelbaum in a statement to Gizmodo. “They did this because it provided a clear ability to intimidate workers. We demand an investigation over Amazon’s behavior in corrupting the election.”
For its part, Amazon claims that the mailbox’s placement was intended to make the voting process more convenient for employees.
“We said from the beginning that we wanted all employees to vote and proposed many different options to try and make it easy,” a company spokesperson told Gizmodo on Thursday. “The RWDSU fought those at every turn and pushed for a mail-only election, which the NLRB’s own data showed would reduce turnout. 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.”
However, that explanation rings hollow given Amazon’s fierce anti-union campaign in Alabama these past few months, not to mention the company’s decades-long history of fighting unionization. To wit, Amazon has pushed out text messages, posters, mailers, Twitch ads, and every other manner of propaganda to convince workers at its Bessemer warehouse to vote “No” this election.
The union needs just over 50% of the vote to win. Both Amazon and the RWDSU can challenge ballots based on certain eligibility requirements and petition to overturn the results if the number of contested ballots is substantial enough. The NLRB would then hold a hearing and rule on the validity of each ballot individually, a process that could take months. On Thursday, the RWDSU told Gizmodo that “hundreds” of ballots have been challenged, most of them by Amazon.
As of now, it’s anyone’s guess when we’ll have the final results. It may be tomorrow, or maybe Monday, or maybe months from now (though hopefully not). We’ll continue to post updates as we learn more.