One of Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN) major strengths is its ability to process orders and ship them out efficiently. For this and other reasons, it's long been important to Amazon to retain complete control over its warehouses -- and the people who work at those facilities.
Earlier this year, that control was threatened by a group of warehouse employees in Bessemer, Alabama, who decided to explore the idea of joining a union. Amazon made it clear that it was not happy with that notion. The online giant launched an aggressive anti-union campaign in the hopes of swaying workers to vote "no" to such an initiative.
And Amazon got its way. The bulk of the company's Bessemer workers voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. But now, that vote may be revisited. And if its results turn out differently, Amazon could face new challenges in its wake.
A new election could be in the works
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) official is now recommending that the results of the Bessemer union election be scrapped due to misconduct on Amazon's part. That recommendation is based on reports that Amazon interfered with the conditions needed to conduct a fair vote.
One point of contention for the NLRB is that Amazon installed a mailbox in its warehouse parking lot and urged workers to mail in their ballots for the union election. Usually, this type of voting is done in person, but due to the pandemic, the NLRB authorized mail-in votes. However, the NLRB is arguing that Amazon's mailbox opened the door to potential tampering.
The NLRB has also criticized Amazon for intimidating warehouse employees into voting against unionizing. The company not only put out a host of anti-union messaging but also required employees to attend group meetings during which the company shared its anti-union stance.
Amazon denies that it tampered with the union vote and insists that, ultimately, workers made their own decisions. But now, the NLRB is calling for a second vote, and if that transpires and ends with different results, it could be a game-changer for Amazon.
If a second election does occur and workers decide to unionize, Amazon won't be the only retailer impacted. Rather, the decision could impact the warehousing industry as a whole. As such, real estate investors who own industrial real estate investment trusts (REITs) may want to keep a close eye on how the Amazon union saga plays out.
The Millionacres bottom line
Amazon has already come under fire during the pandemic for how it mistreated warehouse workers at the start of the health crisis. Regardless of whether the company's workers opt to unionize, the events of the past year could cause Amazon to rethink its safety measures at a time when it, like many retailers, is consistently seeking to expand its warehouse footprint.
In fact, high demand for warehousing space is part of what makes industrial REITs such an attractive investment right now, but if unions start popping up all over the country, it could change the scope of how these properties are operated. That's something investors will want to keep on their radar.