Amazon allegedly retaliates against worker at its Bessemer facility

Deepak Gupta
Deepak Gupta January 25, 2022
Updated 2022/01/25 at 5:16 AM

Isaiah Thomas is a 20-year-old Amazon worker at the company’s facilities in Bessemer, Alabama, BHM1. He is also a vocal supporter of warehouse unionization. At a Monday night press conference, he described what he believed to be surveillance and retaliation on the part of his employer solely for his support of collective bargaining efforts. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores Union (RWDSU), which has been working to represent BHM1 employees, filed two unfair labor practices complaints with the National Labor Relations Board over the incident.

In a screenshot provided by the union, a letter addressed only by “BHM1 Management” to Isaiah states that the worker was “requesting in work areas, during working hours”. The letter admits that these activities “may have taken place during the break”, but nevertheless states that Isaiah was “violating” the company’s solicitation policy.

RWDSU, however, believes that this action was itself a violation of the “settlement agreement that the employer recently entered into with the NLRB”. That settlement, which was made public late last month, concerned various instances of Amazon preventing union activity. The union filed a separate ULP, claiming that the company or its agents “created the impression that Mr. Thomas was under surveillance.” Amazon is known for holding captive audience meetings designed to discourage union interest, and after one such meeting on BHM1, in which Isaiah allegedly questioned a “labor relations manager”, RWDSU states in its ULP that “Mr. Thomas observed the employer’s agents circling his work area for no other purpose than to see him work” and later assigned him to a different area where he could be “more easily observed”.

Although RWDSU described the letter as a “reprimand” in an email to Ploonge, it is unclear whether it represents a write. We contacted Amazon for comments.

The news comes two days after the NLRB ruled that Amazon had illegally fired another pro-union worker at its Staten Island facility. If this case is not resolved, the Board plans to file a formal complaint against the company.

BHM1 became the first major Amazon facility on American soil to hold a union vote. While the vote swung heavily in favor of the cloud and e-commerce giant, it was contested on procedural grounds by RWDSU. The NLRB upheld the challenge, ruling that Amazon had, in fact, unlawfully interfered with the union vote. Finally, the Council determined that a new vote should be taken. It’s scheduled to take place on February 4th (although vote counting doesn’t start until the end of March).

Amazon is, in addition to its preference for a non-unionized workforce, known for its employee attrition rate. Apparently, the speed at which it passes through workers would hamper efforts to build a cohesive bargaining unit at BHM1. According to RWDSU, the current voter roll at the facility is 6,143 people, of which just over half were present at the previous vote, which took place almost exactly a year ago.

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