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Challenged ballots leave outcome in doubt of Amazon union vote in Alabama

The final results of the highly-contested union election at Amazon's Bessemer, Alabama, facility remain unclear as hundreds of challenged ballots head to the national labor board for investigation. 

The initial count showed a majority voted against unionization, with about 52% of returned ballots voting against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and 48% voting in favor. Just 39% of the 6,000 workers in the facility returned ballots. 

But the number of challenged ballots, 416, is enough to change the outcome and will need to be investigated by the NLRB before a final tally is reached. RWDSU president Stuart Applebaum said that both the union and Amazon had challenged ballots. 

Despite the low turnout, Applebaum tried to push a hopeful note on Thursday after the final count.

"Workers here are also sending a clear message – it's long past time for Jeff Bezos to return to Earth and to start dealing with the very real problems his employees face everyday at his facilities across the country," Applebaum said. 

He pointed to a wave of recent organizing at Starbucks, REI and other retail outlets as evidence of the campaign's effects.

"Vote now" sign outside Bessemer, Alabama
Cars pass by a digital billboard paid for by Amazon urging workers to vote in the unionization drive in Bessemer, Alabama, U.S., on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Appelbaum blamed the low turnout on the high turnover at Amazon's warehouses and the company's aggressive anti-union tactics, including pulling workers into mandatory meetings to persuade them to vote "no."

This is the second time the warehouse has voted on joining RWDSU. During the first vote, held in April last year, Amazon easily defeated the workers' attempt to join the RWDSU, which less than 30% of workers supported. RWDSU charged Amazon with illegal misconduct and claimed the company intimidated workers into voting against the unionization effort. 

After months of investigation, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) called for a new election to take place. Workers at the Bessemer facility had from February 4 to March 25 to mail-in their ballots. The NLRB began processing the ballots on Monday, giving the union and Amazon a chance to challenge specific ballots. 

The NLRB is also reviewing ballots for a union election at a warehouse on Staten Island, New York. RWDSU is hoping for a more favorable outcome there, especially since New York is not a right-to-work state, like Alabama. 

The vote on Staten Island will resume on Friday.

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