FOCUS-Amazon takes another swipe at union as Alabama rematch looms

       By Jeffrey Dastin and Julia Love
    Nov 4 (Reuters) - Earlier this year, Amazon.com Inc (AMZN)
handily defeated a historic union drive at a warehouse in
Bessemer, Alabama. But with the prospect of another vote
looming, the online retailer is leaving nothing to chance.
    Over the past few weeks, Amazon (AMZN) has ramped up its campaign
at the warehouse, forcing thousands of employees to attend
meetings, posting signs critical of labor groups in bathrooms,
and flying in staff from the West Coast, according to interviews
and documents seen by Reuters.
    It is an indication that Amazon (AMZN) is sticking to its
aggressive playbook. In August, a U.S. National Labor Relations
Board hearing officer said the company's conduct around the
previous vote interfered with the Bessemer union election. An
NLRB regional director's decision on whether to order a new vote
is forthcoming. Amazon (AMZN) has denied wrongdoing and said it wanted
employees' voices to be heard.
    Still, the moves to discourage unionization ahead of any
second election, previously unreported, show how Amazon (AMZN) is
fighting representation at its U.S. worksites.
    An uptick in labor activity since workers in April rejected
joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union
(RWDSU), including organizing drives in New York and Canada, has
pushed Amazon (AMZN) to react.
    Other prominent unions like the International Brotherhood of
Teamsters are also vowing to organize Amazon (AMZN). The risk: unions
could alter how Amazon (AMZN) manages its vast, finely tuned operation
and drive up costs at a time when a labor shortage is taking a
toll on its profit.
    Wilma Liebman, a former NLRB chair, said the stakes are
high.
    "They really, really fear any toe in the door to
unionization," Liebman said. "There's nothing like a win, and a
win can be contagious."
    In a statement, Amazon (AMZN) spokesperson Kelly Nantel said a
union "will impact everyone at the site so it's important all
employees understand what that means for them and their
day-to-day life working at Amazon (AMZN)."
    In the new campaign, Amazon (AMZN) has dedicated a week of
mandatory meetings to warn staff that unions will force them to
strike and forgo pay, a nod to the recent stoppages roiling
workplaces across the country.
    And like last time, Amazon (AMZN) has said unions are a business
taking workers' money and told staff to consider what it can
guarantee and what unions cannot - now in panels in bathroom
stalls and above urinals. The panels carry information unrelated
to unions as well.
    "Unions can make a lot of promises, but cannot guarantee you
will receive better wages, benefits, or working conditions,"
read a photo shared with Reuters.

    UNION SUPPORTERS PUSH BACK
    Some staff have challenged Amazon's (AMZN) claims and posted their
own pro-union signs in warehouse bathrooms, according to worker
accounts.
    The RWDSU, meanwhile, has flown in personnel to Bessemer,
facilitated nightly chats at a burger joint, and ramped up
door-knocking. Home visits are a crucial part of organizing
drives because unions have no guaranteed worksite access under
U.S. law, said John Logan, a professor at San Francisco State
University.
    Stuart Appelbaum, the RWDSU's president, said the union has
heard from employees who now would change their vote to join. He
said he believes door-knocking gives the union a new edge.
    "We have a greater opportunity to engage with people every
day than during the height of the pandemic," said Appelbaum.
Organizers did not conduct home visits last time because of
COVID-19 fears.
    He added that the RWDSU's effort is about more than Amazon (AMZN).
"It's about the future of work."
    A Teamsters spokeswoman said the union has attended strategy
meetings on Amazon (AMZN) with other unions coordinated by the biggest
U.S. labor federation, the AFL-CIO. Tim Schlittner of the
AFL-CIO said the federation is "bringing the resources of the
labor movement" to support Amazon (AMZN) workers.
    Roadblocks abound, not least that the RWDSU has to reach new
staff joining the company without knowing their names until an
official election is ordered. Appelbaum estimated that Amazon (AMZN)
was hiring 200 people a week in Bessemer.
    Amazon (AMZN) had no comment on turnover. The warehouse headcount
numbers more than 5,800.

    SCARE TACTIC
    On Oct. 10, just when Amazon (AMZN) raised hourly wages by 25 cents
for more veteran staff, the company re-started mandatory weekly
meetings in Bessemer to highlight different messages about
unions. Amazon (AMZN) said the pay increase was unrelated to the
meetings.
    For Darryl Richardson, an outspoken union supporter at the
facility, strikes were a bigger focus of Amazon's (AMZN) new campaign.
    "They're trying to scare you more now," Richardson said.
"You don't get paid going on a strike."
    According to Richardson, Amazon (AMZN) falsely said a union would
force workers to walk off the job and fine them if they crossed
a picket line. The 52-year-old said Amazon (AMZN) has treated him
differently as well: he was denied transfer requests, and an
official walking through the warehouse to ask workers how they
felt about unions had little to say after scanning Richardson's
badge ... "'You're Darryl,' she said. 'Your mind is made up.'"
    Amazon (AMZN) had no comment on Richardson's remarks.
    Though the company told employees they can turn away
organizers showing up at their doorsteps, Richardson said he and
peers have kept knocking, while Amazon (AMZN) is making its case on
home turf.
    In one table-top sign Amazon (AMZN) put up at the warehouse, the
company exhorted workers to "FOLLOW THE MONEY," claiming the
RWDSU gave Appelbaum a "$30,000 raise paid for by union dues"
and last year spent nearly $100,000 on cars for its officials.
    Asked for comment, Appelbaum said he has no union car and
that transportation is for field representatives whose jobs
require travel to workplaces.
    Amazon (AMZN) is "misrepresenting the information," he said.

 (Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin and Julia Love in San Francisco;
Editing by Anna Driver and Bernard Orr)

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