Amazon’s request to close union hearing is denied

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People arrive for work at Amazon’s fulfillment center, Staten Island, New York, October 25, 2021.

AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File

A federal labor commission has denied Amazon’s request to bar a public hearing into the company’s attempt to overturn a historic labor victory at one of its warehouses in Staten Island, New York.

National Labor Relations Board hearings are usually held in person and are open to the public. But the Seattle-based company filed a motion Tuesday arguing that the agency should make the Staten Island union vote hearing private because it will be held on Zoom.

Amazon argued that a Zoom hearing makes it difficult to know whether witnesses who are not supposed to attend the hearing are listening in or whether the hearing is recorded and shared with others, which the labor board prohibits. The hearing, which begins Monday, is expected to last several days.

On Thursday, Cornele Overstreet, regional director of the NLRB field office who will oversee the hearing, denied the company’s request. He wrote in a filing that the company had “presented no compelling reason” to deviate from the longstanding policy of holding public hearings.

“Commission hearings are not secret. Accordingly, blocking the public from seeing its important processes is not an option,” Overstreet wrote.

Amazon pointed to “unprecedented national media coverage” as one of the reasons why access to the hearing should be limited, arguing that it is difficult to sequester witnesses.

But the fact that the union election “has attracted national and international attention from outside parties only reinforces the importance of allowing public observation,” Overstreet wrote.

The e-commerce juggernaut has sought to overturn a labor victory at one of its New York warehouses since April, saying organizers from the fledgling Amazon Labor Union and the Brooklyn office of the NLRB, which oversaw the election, have acted in a way that tainted the results. The company says it wants to re-run the election, but pro-union pundits and union organizers argue this is a method to delay union contract negotiations.

Overstreet noted in its order that a hearing officer issued instructions not to record the hearing.

He said he was pleased that the hearing officer had safeguards in place to maintain the integrity of the hearing, adding that “there are no extraordinary circumstances to deviate from the long-standing policy of the Commission to permit public observation of the proceedings of the Commission”.

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