Does Amazon Have a PR Problem?

Aims to hire thousands in Florida, as the NLRB calls for second Bessemer union vote
Photograph: Shutterstock

As Amazon continues to streamline last-mile delivery, the Seattle-based company is getting aggressive in Florida, with two new fulfillment centers and five delivery stations expected to launch in the Sunshine State in 2022. But will the e-tailing giant attract the more than 2,500 workers it needs to run these facilities in the face of ongoing criticism for its treatment of workers and “anti-union” tactics in the wake of the failed vote to unionize at its Bessemer, Ala., fulfillment center?

The new 630,000 square-foot robotics fulfillment center, which is anticipated to launch in Tallahassee in late 2022, will create more than 1,000 full-time jobs with benefits and opportunities to engage with advanced robotics, Amazon said. Employees at the fulfillment center will pick, pack and ship small items, such as books, electronics and toys, to customers.

Last week, the company also announced a new fulfillment center in Port St. Lucie, Fla., which is set to create 500 full-time jobs. Amazon currently operates more than 50 sites in Florida that support customer fulfillment and delivery operations, including more than 10 facilities that launched in 2020. The five new Florida delivery stations are planned for Riviera Beach, Melbourne, Coral Springs, Fort Myers and St. Petersburg.

Amazon’s expansion comes as the historic union vote at its Bessemer facility in April is making headlines once again. Following the vote against unionization, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) charged Amazon with illegal misconduct during the union vote. Now the RWDSU and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are calling for the vote to be thrown out, and a second election held.

Earlier this month, the hearing officer for the NLRB formally submitted an initial recommendation on the objections filed by the RWDSU. In a final step toward a formal decision, the hearing officer who presided over the case has determined that Amazon violated labor law and is recommending that the regional director set aside the results of the election and direct a second election.

“Workers endured an intensive anti-union campaign designed by Amazon to intimidate and interfere with their choice on whether or not to form a union,” wrote the RWDSU in a press release, in which it stated its support of the hearing officer’s recommendation to hold a second new election.

Whether a second vote will occur will come in the formal decision. The RWDSU is hoping for a decision just after Labor Day, if not early September, the union told WGB.

The Amazon ‘Fortress’

Regardless of the outcome, “This vote may be the most important union vote in decades,” Lynne Vincent, an industrial and labor relations expert and assistant professor of management at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management told WGB in a March interview just days before the Bessemer votes were tallied.

“The outcome of the first vote wasn’t surprising given the considerable structural and societal forces working against unionization,” Vincent told WGB in August. “Just getting the vote was remarkable. A victory would have been astonishing.

“It is difficult to say if the NLRB officer’s recommendation will be upheld. There are several steps left to take, and Amazon can challenge the recommendation. However, in this situation, the union has the advantage compared to Amazon, which is rare,” added Vincent. “The recommendation for a second vote is very rare, and the NLRB tends to support the recommendation of their officers. Furthermore, the NLRB has to conclude that the evidence ‘reasonably’ not definitely indicates that Amazon interfered with the vote. That is a lower hurdle.” 

Amazon responded to the recommendation by stating that Amazon workers voted against the union and “their voice should be heard above all else, and we plan to appeal to ensure that happens.” The response suggests they intend to fight it, Vincent said.

Would a second vote impact Amazon’s reputation and its ability to attract the talent necessary to fuel its expansion efforts?

“Amazon’s reputation might be tarnished, but that tarnish probably would not cause lasting damage,” Vincent said. “Amazon’s market share is significant, and they have a massive amount of resources. If we think of them as a fortress, it is possible that the fortress can be overtaken, but the fortress’ defenses are powerful. The walls may take some damage, but the walls will stand.” 

In addition to promoting its new fulfillment centers and delivery stations, Amazon has been vocal about what it sees as the benefits of employment and independent contractor work with the rapidly expanding company.

“The five new delivery stations will power the last mile of Amazon’s order process and help increase efficiency of deliveries for customers,” said Amazon in a release. “Delivery stations also offer entrepreneurs the opportunity to build their own business delivering Amazon packages. In addition, independent contractors gain the flexibility to be their own boss and create their own schedule delivering for Amazon Flex.

“Amazon prioritizes significant investment in its employees, paying more than $160 billion in compensation to its U.S. workforce over the last ten years,” the company added. “Amazon provides employees with wages starting at least $15 an hour with industry-leading benefits starting on day one including healthcare, 401(k) retirement savings and career skills training programs.”



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