By Bill Rigby
SEATTLE (Reuters) - A small group of Amazon.com Inc technicians at a distribution center in Delaware voted on Wednesday not to join a union, marking a victory for the U.S. online retailer which is strongly opposed to any kind of third-party representation for its employees.
A group of equipment maintenance and repair technicians voted 21 to 6 not to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), in results published late on Wednesday.
The vote was a symbolic test of Amazon's employee relations policies, but did not affect the vast majority of the 1,500 or so packers and shippers who work at the Middletown, Delaware facility, one of more than 40 distribution centers in the United States.
It does mean however, that under U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rules, there cannot be another vote on unionization at the facility for one year.
"Our employees have made it clear that they prefer a direct connection with Amazon," said Mary Osako, an Amazon spokeswoman, in an emailed statement.
John Carr, a representative of the IAM, said Amazon had worked behind the scenes to sway workers.
"The workers at Amazon faced intense pressure from managers and anti-union consultants hired to suppress this organizing drive," said Carr, adding that the union will continue to work with the Amazon technicians with the aim of organizing union representation.
Like its brick-and-mortar rival Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Seattle-based Amazon discourages any kind of union activity at its operations. In turn, labor groups are making efforts to organize in the retail sector.
On Wednesday, the NLRB issued a complaint against Wal-Mart alleging the world's largest retailer violated labor laws in 14 states by taking action against striking workers. Wal-Mart says its actions were valid.
Amazon has not so far faced much pressure in the United States, but late last year more than 1,000 of its workers in Germany went on strike as part of a long-running pay dispute and have vowed to continue industrial actions this year. Some 1,000 Amazon employees in Germany also signed a petition opposing unionization.
The company has also faced bad publicity after the BBC broadcast a documentary last year on the rigors of working inside an Amazon delivery center, which can involve walking up to 11 miles (18 km) a day at peak times picking items off shelves.
Amazon has stressed that workers at its centers are relatively well paid, safe, and get training on the job.
"The top priority of our fulfillment center network is safety. It's safer to work in the Amazon fulfillment network than in a department store," said Amazon's Osako.
(Reporting by Bill Rigby in Seattle, Dhanya Skariachan in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Matt Driskill)