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In a new interview with Yahoo Finance, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh suggested the results of a historic union vote at an Amazon (AMZN) warehouse in Alabama are imminent. He also objected in general terms to anti-union "intimidation" amid concerns over a campaign waged by Amazon to dissuade workers from supporting the organizing drive.
"The Amazon situation — we're going to see what the result of the vote is in the next few days," Walsh says.
Vote-tallying by the National Labor Relations Board began on Tuesday but observers expected a protracted process since both sides — the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union (RWDSU) and Amazon — could exercise their right to challenge each of the thousands of votes based on eligibility or procedural concerns.
Nearly 6,000 workers at the facility in Bessemer, Alabama, were eligible to vote in the election, which pitted the nation’s second-largest private sector employer against labor advocates eager to reverse decades of union decline and gain a foothold in the growing tech sector. Mail-in voting began in early February and concluded on Monday.
'They should have that opportunity to be able to vote'
Even after vote-counting ends, the dispute over the outcome could take months through challenges at the labor board or in the courts.
In response to a question about the anti-union campaign undertaken by Amazon at the facility, Walsh told Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief, Andy Serwer, "There should be no intimidation when somebody wants to join union."
"If the workers feel they want a union, they should have that opportunity to be able to vote and put a union in their workplace," he adds. "That's how I feel."
The remarks echoed those made by President Joe Biden in a video last month that warned employers against intimidation meant to dissuade workers from organizing a union. While Biden did not mention Amazon by name, his reference to "workers in Alabama" was widely perceived as an allusion to the labor battle at the tech giant.
Amazon has aggressively opposed the union drive, hiring the same law firm — Morgan Lewis — that it did when it fought a union drive at a Delaware warehouse in 2014. Plus, the company created a website that warns of onerous dues payments and the negative impact of a union on day-to-day operations.
In a statement to Yahoo Finance in February, Amazon defended its opposition to union organizing among employees in Alabama.
“The fact is that Amazon already offers what unions are requesting for employees: industry-leading pay, comprehensive benefits from the first day on the job, opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern work environment,” Amazon Spokesperson Maria Boschetti said.
Walsh, who served as mayor of Boston for seven years until he joined the Biden administration, is the former head of the Boston Metropolitan District Building Trades Council, a trade union. He marks the first union leader to serve as Labor Secretary in nearly 45 years.
He represents a dramatic shift from his predecessor Eugene Scalia, the son of the late conservative Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia. Eugene Scalia, a partner at white-shoe law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, spent his time at the Labor Department weakening employee protections — so much that a New Yorker profile described him as a “wrecking ball aimed at workers.”
"Workers might take the opportunity to vote for a union; some workers might take the opportunity not to vote for union," Walsh says. "But I think that anti-union rhetoric really doesn't help."
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Department of Labor oversees the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB is an independent federal agency.