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Amazon loses bid to keep union hearing secret

The internet behemoth is challenging the results of its warehouse employees’ election, blaming its success on unfair tactics by organizers and the National Labor Relations Board.

BROOKLYN (CN) — Amazon can’t shut the public out of a hearing where it will try to overturn its employees’ first successful union election in the United States, a federal labor board ruled Thursday. 

The e-commerce and web services giant is pushing back against the history-making vote, which in April formed an independent union at the Staten Island facility known as JFK8. It accused the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) of inappropriately leading the Amazon Labor Union to victory — and the union itself of coercing and misleading voters. 

Amazon asked that only the trial teams, hearing officer and testifying witness attend the hearing. It would be “virtually impossible to ensure the proper sequestration of witnesses … unless access is limited,” the company argued in a motion. 

The labor board noted its longstanding policy of public access while denying the bid. 

“The board’s hearings are not secret,” reads the three-page order penned Cornele Overstreet, regional director of the NLRB’s office in Phoenix, Arizona. “Accordingly, preventing the public from viewing its important processes is not an option.” 

Led by workers who were fired after protesting inadequate Covid-19 protections in the early days of the pandemic, the union grabbed headlines with warehouse workers, a collective David, standing up to a Goliath with a trillion-dollar market cap. 

All the more reason to keep it in the public eye, the board reasoned. 

“That this case has garnered national and international attention from outside parties only further solidifies the importance of allowing public observation, as employees and members of the public can be better informed of the purposes and policies of the Act.” 

Amazon Labor Union attorney Eric Milner celebrated the decision. 

“Amazon wanted to conduct a secret hearing so no one could hear how ridiculous their objections were,” Milner told Courthouse News via email. “The workers that participated in the election deserve transparency.”

Amazon did not immediately return a request for comment. 

About 55% of voters supported the union at the Staten Island facility. The hard-earned win followed a year of building bonds, organizers said, including helping fired workers pay their bills and hosting 20-something employee barbeques. 

Despite the win at the JFK8 facility, a union election at another Staten Island facility, known as LDJ5, came up short. Organizers blamed the outcome on Amazon stepping up its anti-union efforts. 

In its objection to the successful election, Amazon argued that the labor board’s most glaring transgression was its filing of a federal lawsuit a week before the election accusing the company of unfairly firing Gerald Bryson, an employee who was fired after attending a protest against lagging pandemic protocols. That proceeding is ongoing, but in the meantime, an administrative law judge has ordered Amazon to reinstate Bryson. 

Also let go post-protest was Christian Smalls, a former employee who is now president of the Amazon Labor Union. 

Internal messages show that an Amazon human resources employee had multiple concerns about firing Smalls, including that Smalls had a right to attend the peaceful, socially distanced protest, and that his termination “is going to be perceived as retaliation.”

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