A step closer to unions at Amazon

Could Amazon (AMZN) workers finally be on a path to unionizing?

A case settled this week with the National Labor Relations Board could pave the way for the company's workers to organize. As part of the settlement, Amazon agreed to display signs at its fulfillment centers telling employees that they have the right to form unions. The company did not respond to a request for comment from CBS MoneyWatch.

Amazon has beaten back employee attempts to unionize for years. Earlier this year, a group of workers at a Delaware fulfillment center shot down a proposal to form the company's first labor union. Labor leaders said Amazon aggressively lobbied to discourage the workers from unionizing.

Amazon has been criticized for creating difficult working conditions for employees, particularly those in its fulfillment centers. In 2011, it parked ambulances outside a Pennsylvania warehouse for workers suffering from heat-related injuries. It later installed 40 roof-top air conditioners to alleviate the heat. The U.S. Department of Labor has investigated two deaths this year at Amazon centers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Employees have filed dozens of complaints against the company with the National Labor Relations Board. The complaint settled this week was from a worker at a Phoenix warehouse who was criticized after raising concerns in an employee meeting about security in the parking lot, according to Bloomberg, which received a copy of the settlement.

The employee, Brian Weiss, was called into a human-resources office later that day, where supervisors reportedly told him he was being loud and disrespectful. Weiss subsequently filed a complaint with the labor board.

Amazon will now post notices clarifying workers' rights at its fulfillment centers.

A unionized workforce could be a blow to Amazon's already fragile bottom line. Union workers in the transportation and warehousing sectors earned about 33 percent more than nonunion workers last year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Kim Peterson

    Kim Peterson is a financial journalist covering business and the economy. She has written for several online and print publications, including MSN Money and The Seattle Times.