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Amazon pushes labor board to overturn union election

A hearing expected to last weeks kicked off Monday with Amazon accusing its own employees and a federal labor board of undue influence on a history-making union election.

(CN) — Two months after Amazon employees from a facility on Staten Island solidified the first successful union election of the company's U.S. workforce — a decision announced to much revelry outside of the National Labor Relations Board’s office in downtown Brooklyn — the e-commerce giant fought in Phoenix on Monday to overturn that outcome. 

Held via Zoom and expected to last for several weeks, the hearing is the result of 25 objections that Amazon filed with the board, demanding a do-over while accusing members of the Amazon Labor Union and the board itself of coercive and other inappropriate means to secure votes. 

Amazon lost its bid to keep the public out of the proceedings on June 9. It has continued to raise concerns about employees of the board’s local chapter, region 29, attending. The case was transferred to the Phoenix-based region 28 where it’s in front of hearing officer Lisa J. Dunn. 

On the first day of the objections hearing, the company’s attorney questioned the union’s support and whether the board was right to allow an election in the first place — accusing it of being “willing to fudge the numbers” to help the union. Attorney Kurt Larkin also criticized the board’s slow movement on unfair labor complaints that left an unfairly high number of cases outstanding at election time. 

Larkin said union leaders improperly loitered in the parking lot where voting was held and filmed voters as they checked in. He said allowing media to interview voters about their decision was also a mistake, as there were “cameras and microphones shoved in employees’ faces” while they waited in line. 

“I ask you to imagine how you would act if you were an employee who hadn’t voted,” said Larkin, of the firm Hunton Andrews Kurth. “How would you answer if someone asked you the same questions when you were in line?”

Chiefly, Amazon takes issue with the labor board’s federal lawsuit against Amazon — filed days before the election kicked off — accusing it of illegally firing employee Gerald Bryson in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic because he protested the lack of protocols to prevent transmission of the virus. 

To Amazon, the suit suggested the board stood behind the union rather than remaining neutral. 

Another two employees who were disciplined for similar protests , Derrick Palmer and Christian Smalls, are the subject of a separate labor complaint by the New York attorney general

While Dunn on Monday denied the labor union’s request to dismiss Amazon’s objections, she will require Amazon to file a verbal or written offer of proof identifying each witness and summarizing their testimony. 

Larkin repeatedly said he was “confused” by the order and did not understand its purpose. He argued that the procedure has the effectively hands the union free pretrial discovery.  

Union attorney Eric Milner said Amazon’s objections are part of the company’s playbook to delaying union organizing. 

“It wasn’t close,” Milner said of the landslide election. “Nevertheless, we find ourselves here because Amazon is deciding to be a sore loser.” 

Milner warned that Amazon’s goal is to return law to the “dark” Lochner era, referring to a 1905 Supreme Court decision in Lochner v. New York that struck down labor regulations. The decision in the case, which was brought by an upstate New York bakery owner who was making his employees sleep on site, was overturned in 1937 by a ruling that also established a minimum wage for women. 

Amazon insists it is simply seeking a free and fair election. 

“We are not here to smear the union the same way that it has tried to smear Amazon,” Larkin said. 

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