(Bloomberg) – The historic union election at an Amazon.com Inc. fulfillment center in Alabama will close on Monday, kicking off a vote that organizers expect is controversial and will last a few days.
Up to 5,800 workers at the Bessemer facility were eligible to vote to join the wholesale and department store union. The highly competitive mail-in elections, which began seven weeks ago, attracted national attention – President Joe Biden even weighed in – and resulted in the union and Amazon embroiled in a sometimes difficult information war.
Both sides have a lot to lose. If RWDSU prevails, the union initiative could spread to other Amazon entities, some of which are already experiencing an uproar of labor activism. A loss to RWDSU would be a major setback for the US labor movement, which has been in decline for decades.
Opinions at the Bessemer warehouse were divided between workers who believe the union will help them maintain less demanding working conditions and workers who are satisfied with a starting wage of $ 15 and health benefits. Above the elections were fears that joining RWDSU would cause Amazon to shut down the facility, as it has done elsewhere.
The vote counting process begins Tuesday at 10 a.m. east in a private session chaired by the National Labor Relations Board. Amazon and the union first have the opportunity to review sealed individual votes and raise objections, such as whether an employee’s occupational classification entitles them to vote, problems with a signature or a torn envelope.
Eligibility could be a particularly controversial issue as sales in Amazon warehouses are high and some workers in Bessemer have reportedly received ballots after leaving the company. The choice was open to people in most professions who were employed during the January 9th payroll period. During this time, the company typically paints tens of thousands of workers hired to tackle vacation shopping.
Controversial ballot papers are set aside and checked later, only if there are enough of them to affect the election result.
Once the verification process is complete, the NLRB officials will begin counting the pile of undisputed ballots in a process open to reporters watching through Zoom. The ballots themselves don’t offer much to argue about: a yes or no field to fill in. As the NLRB has committed to counting every weekday during business hours, the time of final settlement is unknown.
If the profit margin is less than the number of contested ballots, the NLRB will hold a hearing to rule on the disputed votes and add those deemed correct to the result.
The Amazon Fulfillment Center – the company’s first in Alabama – opened exactly a year ago to a largely positive response in a city that is still recovering from the erosion of its manufacturing base. Still, some workers found the job tedious or angry about catching Covid-19, which had spread in the US and infected dozens of Amazon workers elsewhere.
A Bessemer employee contacted the union, the labor authority gave the go-ahead for the election, and the fight was on.
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