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  • Vanessa Bartlett

National Labor Relations Act Needs to Be Revamped

Once again, Amazon workers in Bessemer, AL are in the spotlight. After the workers voted against unionizing in April, the company received scrutiny for their handling of unionization efforts at their Bessemer warehouse.

The National Labor Relations Board heard legal challenges from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which argued that Amazon created a coercive environment for workers leading up to the union vote.

The NLRB has approved a second vote, which is scheduled to be counted on March 28. Union supporters are hopeful that this time around, workers will be able to overcome corporate fearmongering and start bargaining collectively.

Prior to the first vote, Amazon had employees at their Bessemer warehouse attend mandatory “information sessions” which were used to push the company’s line on the supposed drawbacks of unionization.

Amazon also had a mailbox installed for collecting union votes which some workers suspected would be surveilled by the company.

Furthermore, Amazon asked the county to change the timing of a red light outside of their warehouse location. The intersection in question was a key spot where organizers would attempt to communicate with fellow employees about unionization. The company also sent mailers out which instructed employees to “Vote NO” and protect the benefits they already get (Side note: if a union was really capable of losing benefits for employees, nobody would ever unionize).

Even though Amazon brazenly broke the law to fight unionization efforts, the company has faced no meaningful repercussions. And despite growing support, unionization efforts are inevitably an uphill battle.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, companies are not given monetary fines for labor rights violations. Amazon was only fined for firing workers illegally after they were known to be involved with union organizing efforts.

Companies are not required to allow workers to continue working for them while workers pursue legal cases relating to labor rights violations. Since these legal battles can be lengthy, workers can end up unemployed for long periods of time for challenging the status quo at their workplaces.

In more than 40% of NLRB union elections, companies are charged with violations of workers’ rights. Many Americans want to unionize their workplaces, but fear retaliation from their employers. Employers shell out hundreds of millions of dollars a year on anti-union propaganda materials, including posters, video ads, and more, to keep workers from standing up for themselves.

Within our current system, successful unionization efforts are rare exceptions to the norm. Employers are free to use their resources to push their anti-union perspective on employees, and to threaten to take away jobs if workers seem to be interested in unionizing.

Democrats have signaled their support for passing the PRO Act. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act has already been passed in the House, but has stalled in the Senate. This piece of legislation would do a lot to protect workers from tactics commonly used by employers to deter unionization efforts.

The PRO Act would also strengthen workers’ rights to organize through boycotts and strikes, pursue private legal action against employers, and by preventing employers from interfering in union elections.

In a time of huge economic inequality, bolstering workers’ rights is one of the few ways wage earners might be able to swing the balance of power incrementally closer to “fair”. Like the Voting Rights Act, the PRO Act has major potential to turn the tides of widespread political and economic inequality in the U.S. Until it passes, union organizers have their work cut out for them, and a very long road to hoe indeed.

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