Tech

Amazon workers in Alabama reject union for second time, but challenged ballots remain

Key Points
  • Amazon on Thursday won a do-over election at its Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse.
  • Of the 2,375 ballots cast, there were 993 votes opposing the union and 875 in favor.
  • The National Labor Relations Board ordered a second vote after it found Amazon improperly interfered in the first election last spring.
VIDEO3:2803:28
Alabama Amazon workers vote down unionization in closer vote

Union supporters at Amazon's warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, on Thursday appeared headed toward defeat for a second time. However, with hundreds of contested ballots at play, the election results are still too close to call.

Of the 2,375 ballots cast, there were 993 votes opposing the union and 875 in favor. Approximately 6,153 workers at the Bessemer warehouse were eligible to vote on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

Some 416 ballots remain challenged by Amazon and the RWDSU. Of the ballots submitted, 59 were voided. The election result still needs to be formally certified by the National Labor Relations Board.

The number of challenged ballots is greater than the union's deficit which means Amazon could still lose its lead. The NLRB will hold a hearing in the coming weeks to decide whether the challenged ballots will be opened and counted.

People hold a banner at the Amazon facility as members of a congressional delegation arrive to show their support for workers who will vote on whether to unionize, in Bessemer, Alabama, U.S. March 5, 2021.
Dustin Chambers | Reuters

RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum told reporters following the count that Amazon and the union have each challenged more than 100 ballots.

The NLRB last November ordered another election at the facility after it found Amazon improperly interfered in the vote. In that election, which was held last spring, Bessemer employees overwhelmingly rejected unionization by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

The preliminary results this time are much closer.

The RWDSU is likely to contest the election results. It's already filed objections with the NLRB over Amazon's conduct during the do-over election, including the company's use of captive audience meetings. In the lead up to the election, Bessemer employees were required to sit through weekly meetings with anti-union presentations from Amazon.

"We believe that every valid vote must be counted and every objection heard," Appelbaum said. "Workers here deserve that."

Representatives from Amazon didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the preliminary results.

Activism among Amazon employees has picked up since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Deemed as essential workers, delivery and warehouse employees labored on the front lines while many white-collar employees worked from the comforts of their homes. 

As the pandemic dragged on, Amazon workers staged protests and spoke out about workplace safety. The tightening labor market in the U.S. further galvanized support for unionization, and workers have seized the moment to demand higher pay and better benefits from their employers. 

More than 130 Starbucks stores in 26 states have petitioned the NLRB to unionize, organizers have said. And earlier this month, workers at an REI store in New York City voted to unionize.

In Bessemer, organizers used different strategies to drum up employee support for the union the second time around. With coronavirus vaccines available, they chose to go knock on doors. Employees have also spoken out more in mandatory meetings to challenge Amazon's messaging, said Jennifer Bates, a worker who organized during both campaigns.

"We have a large group of employees who have dived in to help with education," Bates said.

Still, nearly half of all recent re-run elections have fallen short, according to an analysis of NLRB data by Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, a similar vote count is taking place at an Amazon warehouse on New York's Staten Island. The pro-union side is currently ahead in that election, based on early results released Thursday.

The NLRB is expected to resume tallying the votes Friday morning.

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