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Labor Perspective From NYU School Of Law Fellow Jackson Gandour: Amazon Unionization Effort ‘Spotlights Need for U.S. Labor Reform’ - Federal Law ‘Should Enable Workers to Fight for Better Working Conditions’

Published Sunday, December 27, 2020
by Jackson Gandour/2020-2021 New York University School of Law Fellow - Business & Human Rights
Labor Perspective From NYU School Of Law Fellow Jackson Gandour: Amazon Unionization Effort ‘Spotlights Need for U.S. Labor Reform’ - Federal Law ‘Should Enable Workers to Fight for Better Working Conditions’

It is hard to imagine a less hospitable environment in the United States for Workers to organize than in the State of Alabama, where law there seriously curtails Unions, but that is exactly what a group of Amazon Warehouse Employees in Bessemer, Alabama are attempting.

In November, they notified the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) of their intent to hold a vote on whether to Unionize, but failed promises from past U.S. Administrations have forced Workers to fight for better conditions on uneven terrain.

Although the right to Unionize is formally reflected in U.S. law, decisions by lawmakers and courts have “stacked the deckin favor of employers.

According to a CNBC report, Amazon has sought to monitor Workers’ organizing activities.

An NLRB investigation found merit to the claim Amazon illegally fired an employee, Gerald Bryson, for helping lead a protest over concerns about COVID-19 protections at one of the company’s warehouses.

This finding is normally followed by settlement negotiations or a formal NLRB complaint before an Administrative Law Judge.

Amazon denies monitoring employees planning to organize and has indicated it will dispute the NLRB investigation’s finding if the Board issues a complaint, asserting Bryson was fired for violating the company’s harassment policy.

Amazon’s actions in Bessemer have prompted fears it is trying to impede Workers’ Unionization efforts.

The company sought to delay a key NLRB hearing on whether the Union the Workers were seeking to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) had sufficient support to hold an election.

The NLRB rejected Amazon’s attempt to delay and its challenge to the RWDSU’s support.

Amazon told The Washington Post it sought the delay to give the company adequate time to prepare for the hearing during its busy holiday season.

Responding to an e-mail from Human Rights Watch, Amazon had stated it did not believe the group seeking Unionization represented a majority of its Workers and that its Warehouse Employees enjoy competitive pay and benefits.

Human Rights Watch has documented how Federal Law does not meet international standards on the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Employers can draw out cumbersome NLRB Union Election processes while mounting anti-Union campaigns.

Workers fired for organizing are only entitled to be rehired with back pay - minus any amount they could have earned elsewhere in the interim, a penalty so low many employers treat it as a mere business expense.

During his 2008 Presidential Campaign, Barack Obama promised reforms to address these issues, but his administration largely abandoned the effort once in office.

The hostility of southern U.S. states toward Workers’ Rights exacerbate the inadequacies of Federal Law.

Almost all Southern States have laws designed to disempower Unions and state lawmakers have intervened directly in Unionization efforts.

President-Elect Joe Biden should fulfill his campaign promises to bring U.S. Labor Law closer to international standards.

By increasing penalties for employers and instituting measures such asCard Check” - which allows Employees to bypass complex NLRB Elections if a sufficient number sign Union Authorization Cards - Workers, like those in Bessemer, will be better able to join together to protect their rights.

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