Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
All features of a Zoom meeting gone wrong.
People were deactivated and deactivated at the wrong time. Intruders join under pseudonyms. Malicious additions to a screen share.
But this wasn’t just any Zoom meeting. It was a typical day at the National Labor Relations Board’s marathon hearing considering Amazon’s objections to the historic union election victory at a Staten Island warehouse. The NLRB will ultimately decide if a replay election is warranted.
During the week and a half of the opening hearing, there was the kind of fighting and haggling between lawyers that one would expect in any court case.
But the proceedings were also punctuated by a series of issues that any Zoom user would find familiar: a witness unable to log into the Zoom meeting; lawyers unable to unmute; the Hearing Officer’s camera suddenly freezes.
And of course, whenever there are large numbers of people congregating on Zoom, there are opportunities for antics. On Tuesday, the hearing grew to more than 300 attendees, many of whom apparently joined at the invitation of Amazon union leaders Chris Smalls, Derrick Palmer and Angelika Maldonado, who tweeted the Zoom link.
Someone took over screen sharing and scribbled “UNION” on a video presented as evidence by Amazon’s lawyers. Some attendees turned on their cameras to display union swag in signature red while others changed their screen names to messages like “RECOGNIZE ALU.”
This led to repeated warnings issued by the baliff via the chat box, asking attendees to “please provide only your first and last name to be admitted. Turn off your video, mute yourself, and do not use any emojis or other distractions”.
Members of other unions join the hearing to show their support
During the lunch break, members of other unions took advantage of the lull in the debates to shout support for their Amazon comrades, to cries of “Teamsters at home!” “UAW in the house!” “When we fight, we win!” briefly supporting the Zoom call.
There were also more serious problems. While the NLRB has made it clear that any type of recording, live streaming or photos of the Zoom hearing is strictly prohibited, screenshots of the hearing have surfaced on Twitter. On Tuesday, an attorney representing Amazon interrupted the testimony of a witness to report a violation, causing a further delay in the parties’ investigation.
Lisa Dunn, the NLRB attorney who is presiding over the hearing from her home in Phoenix, handled the stream of technical and other issues calmly and patiently, occasionally allowing herself an exasperated chuckle after another issue was resolved. .
Amazon had sought to close the hearing to the public
The virtual hearing comes four months after the election in which warehouse workers voted 2,654 to 2,131 to join the Amazon Labor union. After the ballots were counted on April 1, Amazon filed 25 objections to the election, including accusations that the NLRB regional office overseeing the election favored the union and that union leaders bribed workers with marijuana and threatened and harassed those who did not support the Union.
Before the June 13 hearing began, Amazon sought to close the proceedings to the public. NLRB hearings, normally held in person, have been held online since the start of the pandemic. Amazon attorneys, who are participating from a hotel conference room on Staten Island, argued there was no way to appeal to police monitoring the proceedings, including potential witnesses who should not have access to the testimony of other witnesses. Amazon also warned that there would be no way to stop the unauthorized recording and sharing of proceedings.
The NLRB denied Amazon’s request, citing the importance of public access to a case that has drawn national and international attention.
Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images
The future of an 8,000-member union hangs in the balance
Amid the distractions, it’s important to remember that the future of a union expected to gain more than 8,000 members hangs in the balance. The Staten Island warehouse known as JFK8 is the first and only facility from Amazon in the United States to vote to unionize so far. The outcome of that hearing may well determine where the labor movement at Amazon goes from here — how much momentum it can maintain as it seeks to organize workers at other warehouses across the country.
Last year, the NLRB invalidated the results of the union election and ordered an election at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, after finding that Amazon had improperly interfered by setting up a mailbox nearby. of the installation. In Bessemer, workers voted more than 2 to 1 against joining the union. Amazon argues that the improper actions perpetrated by the NLRB regional office and the Amazon Labor Union in the Staten Island election guarantee “at least the same outcome.”
Hearing could last for months as Amazon plans to call dozens and dozens of witnesses
While the NLRB initially indicated that the Zoom hearing could last “several days”, it now looks like it could last for months. Amazon said it plans to call “dozens and dozens” of witnesses, many of whom are hourly warehouse workers whose jobs include picking items off shelves for orders and loading and unloading trucks. . So far it’s been slow. Each day, the hearing heard only a few witnesses.
On Wednesday morning, an attorney for the Amazon Labor Union called on Amazon to speed things up and cut off testimony on topics that had been well covered, such as the long lines at the voting tent on the first day of the vote or the proximity of the media. at the tent. Hearing Officer Dunn initially denied the request, noting that Amazon should be given the opportunity to build its case, but later acknowledged that some of the testimony was starting to sound repetitive.
Still, the NLRB seems prepared for the long haul. He has scheduled Zoom meetings every day until the end of July.