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Union appears headed to defeat in Amazon vote

The workers at an Alabama Amazon warehouse appeared suspended in the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union on Thursday. There are nearly half of the ballots counted by the National Labor Relations Board. The votes against the union outnumbered votes in favour by a margin of more than two to one, with 1,100 votes against the union and 463 votes in favour. The tally is an opening on Friday, with results expected later that day.

The workers in Bessemer, Alabama, voted over seven weeks, returning vote-by-mail ballots in a historic election to decide whether to form the first US Amazon union. Nearly 5,800 workers were capable of voting, and 3,215 returned their ballots. Hundreds of ballots were challenged to prior 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. Observers had the chance to object to ballots in case the voter’s intention seemed unclear. Amazon took an early lead in the vote count and stayed ahead the entire time.

The NLRB will give a final tally after the voting ends if one party wins by a wide enough margin that the challenged ballots couldn’t change the results. In case the margin is too narrow, the agency will resolve the challenges in litigation that could take weeks.

The company in Alabama 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 training that argued against unions. The company argued it 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 the company costs and potentially have a say in the use of robotics and automation in Amazon warehouses.

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