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Amazon loses bid to scrap historic union win at Staten Island warehouse

Unions rise again: Labor collectives vs. Amazon
Unions rise again: Labor collectives vs. Amazon 04:58

Amazon's efforts to undo the results of a historic union win at a Staten Island warehouse have fallen short, as a hearing officer for a federal labor board on Thursday rebuffed Amazon's objections to the election.

The decision is a victory for organizers in what could be a very long battle for recognition. 

Shortly after the spring vote, in which workers at the warehouse known as JFK decisively won a union election in April, creating the first unionized Amazon facility in the U.S., the company filed more than two dozen objections with the National Labor Relations Board. In those filings, the mega-retailer claimed the election was tainted by organizers and Region 29, the agency's regional office in Brooklyn that oversaw the election. The case was then transferred to another regional office, based in Phoenix, Arizona, at Amazon's request.

The 24-day long hearing, which Amazon had unsuccessfully sought to close to the public, was marked by tense exchanges between attorneys for both sides on what documents could be submitted for evidence and which witnesses could testify.

On Thursday, Lisa Dunn, the agency officer who handled the company's case, concluded that Amazon's objections should be entirely overruled and the union be certified as a bargaining representative for the warehouse, a spokesperson for the NLRB wrote in an email.

"Employer has not met its burden of establishing that Region 29, the Petitioner, or any third parties have engaged in objectionable conduct affecting the results of the election," the spokesperson said, offering a summary of Dunn's recommendation.

Thursday's win is a relief for the Amazon Labor Union, the grassroots group of former and current workers whose unexpected victory in April followed weeks of aggressive campaigning from both sides.

"The people have spoken and it's time for amazon to recognize the Amazon Labor Union and negotiate a contract," Derrick Palmer, a leader of the Amazon Labor Union, said on Twitter.

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the company plans to file another appeal.

"While we're still reviewing the decision, we strongly disagree with the conclusion and intend to appeal," Nantel said in a statement. "As we showed throughout the hearing with dozens of witnesses and hundreds of pages of documents, both the NLRB and the ALU improperly influenced the outcome of the election and we don't believe it represents what the majority of our team wants."

Amazon, the union and the agency's office in Brooklyn have until September 16 to file any exceptions to the report, which would send the case to the regional director, who will issue an order to either certify the election results or order a rerun vote. The company could still appeal that order to the five-person labor board, whose Democratic majority is expected to be sympathetic to the union.

Even when the agency upholds a union victory, experts say companies who don't want a unionized workforce often refuse to negotiate. That move can trigger protracted legal battles in federal court, which companies can use as a backdoor attempt to thwart labor victories.

Union loses separate election, dampening spirits

In May, the nascent union lost a separate election at a neighboring warehouse, which dampened enthusiasm elsewhere. At the same time, it was devoting more time and resources to defend its initial win from the e-commerce giant.

Other campaigns have kicked off at Amazon warehouses in North Carolina, Kentucky and elsewhere, as workers attempt to gather enough signatures to qualify for a union election. The Amazon Labor Union recently filed for an election at an Amazon warehouse near Albany, New York.

CBS News' Irina Ivanova contributed reporting.

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