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May 10, 2021updated 11 May 2021 10:30am

Amazon anonymous: Bezos’ boys won’t know the names of witnesses in union-bash hearing

By Eric Johansson

Amazon won’t learn the names of witnesses at a hearing before they testify about alleged illegal union-bashing efforts over last month’s Alabama vote. The vote concerned whether workers at the ecommerce business’ Bessemer warehouse would form the US’ first Amazon union.

After the union lost the vote, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) accused Amazon of having illegally interfered with the process at the fulfilment centre with threats of lay-offs and even closure of the site.

The workers’ rights organisation alleged the Seattle-headquartered company had scuppered chances for a fair vote by launching an extensive texting campaign and that it “flooded the internet” with “misinformation”; Amazon on its part has denied any wrongdoing. The case is now being heard by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

However, it seems like the first point has gone to RWDSU after hearing officer Kerstin Meyer denied Amazon’s request to learn the names of the witnesses that would testify against Jeff Bezo’s business, Reuters reported.

Amazon’s legal council had argued that not knowing the names of the witnesses beforehand would constitute “trial by ambush” and added that they “wouldn’t be interested in finding out the email address and telephone number” of the witnesses but thought the company should be able to prepare for what the witnesses might say.

Richard Rouco, who represented RWDSU, said: “Protecting and guarding the identity of witnesses, employee witnesses in particular, until the moment that they’re prepared to testify is something that’s very important.”

Amazon has been under pressure recently for how it treats workers. In March, the online shopping mammoth has had to deny accusations that its delivery drivers were so pressed for time that they had to resort to urinating in bottles while on the job. Amazon kept refuting the accusations even after an internal memo suggesting that it had been aware of the situation was leaked to the press.

The NLRB also recently sided with two former Amazon employees who claimed that they had been illegally fired after voicing concerns against the company’s workplace practices and its impact on global warming. Again, Amazon denied any wrongdoing, saying that the two former staff members broke policies about speaking with the media. The NLRB has threatened to take the ecommerce business to court if it doesn’t accept the charges.

A recent thematic research report from GlobalData noted that a similar trend can be seen across the tech industry as investors, the public and lawmakers are increasingly scrutinising the sector’s workplace practices. Uber and Deliveroo are two other companies that have faced similar criticism in the past.