As of Thursday evening, workers at an Alabama Amazon warehouse appeared poised to reject the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. With nearly half of ballots counted by the National Labor Relations Board as of 4 p.m. PT, votes against the union outnumbered votes in favor by a margin of more than two to one, with 1,100 votes against the union and 463 votes in favor. The tally is in recess until 6:30 a.m. PT Friday, with results expected later that day.
The workers in Bessemer, Alabama, voted over a seven-week period, returning vote-by-mail ballotswhether to form the first US Amazon union. About 5,800 workers were eligible to vote, and 3,215 returned their ballots. Hundreds of ballots were reportedly challenged prior to the count based on questions of whether the employee was eligible to vote in the election.
The vote count, which was live-streamed for observers and reporters to watch, took place at an NLRB office in a small hearing room with two in-person observers in a tiny gallery. An NLRB agent processed each ballot by placing it under a camera and calling out "No!" or "Yes!" as he read the results. Observers had the chance to object to ballots if a voter's intention seemed unclear, but this rarely came up. Amazon took an early lead in the vote count and stayed ahead the entire time.
After counting the ballots, the NLRB will give a final tally if one party wins by a wide enough margin that the challenged ballots couldn't change the results. If the margin is too narrow, the agency will resolve the challenges in litigation that could take weeks.
Amazon fought intensely against the union drive, reportedly hiring an anti-union consultant at a rate of $3,200 a day and requiring employees to attend trainings that argued against unions. The company argued it already treats its workers well, with a starting wage that's nearly double the region's minimum wage, as well as health, retirement and tuition benefits. A heavily unionized workforce could drive up Amazon's costs and potentially have a say in the use of robotics and automation in Amazon's warehouses.
Even if Amazon is the clear winner, the union could object to the election on the basis of an unfair labor practice or electioneering that improperly swayed the result. In this scenario, RWDSU would have one week to object to the election. If the labor board rules in RWDSU's favor, the agency could order a re-do of the election.
Correction, Friday at 7:32 a.m. PT: This story has been updated with the correct starting time for the count to resume Friday.