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Amazon Workers in Alabama Vote Against Forming a Union --Update

04/09/2021 | 09:17am EDT

By Sebastian Herrera

Amazon.com Inc. employees in Alabama voted not to unionize, according to a Wall Street Journal tally, handing the tech giant a victory in its biggest battle to date against labor-organizing efforts after the contest fueled national debate over working conditions at one of the nation's largest employers.

With 72% of ballots counted, about 71% of the Bessemer, Ala., warehouse workers voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, according to a Wall Street Journal tally of votes. The number of votes against a union exceeds 1608, the total needed to reach a majority of the 3,215 mail-in ballots sent in by workers. The National Labor Relations Board continues to count the votes live on a broadcast and hasn't yet declared an official winner.

(Article below will update)

Federal officials will resume counting votes Friday morning in a closely watched union election in which a large margin of Alabama warehouse workers for Amazon.com Inc. have so far sided against unionization.

After about half the ballots were counted by federal officials as of Thursday, roughly 70% of the Amazon employees had voted not to unionize, according to a Wall Street Journal tally. The National Labor Relations Board is set to continue counting votes in a broadcast Friday, when the final outcome could become clear. A total of 3,215 ballots were submitted.

The NLRB has processed ballots for days since the voting concluded March 29 to ensure they were valid, and it allowed both parties an opportunity to contest the eligibility of each ballot. The workers in Bessemer, Ala., are trying to become the first Amazon employees to be unionized and would be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

As the tally swung in Amazon's favor Thursday, the union criticized the company's tactics, including mandatory meetings that the company held to discourage workers from voting for unionization and its move to have the U.S. Postal Service install a mailbox outside the Bessemer facility. The union, which said the mailbox could have intimidated workers who might have incorrectly thought that Amazon was conducting the election, is expected to accuse the company of unfair labor practices after the election ends.

"Our system is broken, Amazon took full advantage of that, and we will be calling on the labor board to hold Amazon accountable for its illegal and egregious behavior during the campaign," RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said Thursday. "This still represents an important moment for working people and their voices will be heard."

An Amazon spokeswoman said the mailbox, "which only the USPS had access to -- was a simple, secure, and completely optional way to make it easy for employees to vote, no more and no less." The company declined to comment on unofficial tallies.

The election has drawn national attention because a vote to unionize in Bessemer could fuel other unionization attempts throughout the company, which employs roughly 950,000 people in the U.S., most at its hundreds of warehouses.

Organizers have said forming a union would allow collective bargaining over issues including safety standards, training and compensation. Some employees have complained both publicly and to the company about their workloads and how it monitors them through internal tracking systems. About 6,000 people work at the Amazon facility in Bessemer.

Amazon has said its pay and benefits rank among the best available for comparable jobs. Employees are paid at least $15 an hour, more than double the minimum wage in Alabama. The company says it provides a competitive compensation package that includes retirement and healthcare benefits.

Amazon is the nation's second-largest employer after Walmart Inc. The tech giant added 500,000 workers globally last year as its business thrived while many others were hammered by the effects of the pandemic.

NLRB officials started counting votes in favor and in opposition to the union in Bessemer during a live broadcast Thursday that reporters and others were allowed to watch. The labor board is expected to announce results at the end of the count.

The winning side will have to gain a majority of the total number of votes cast. If there isn't a clear majority, the matter could be decided in a federal hearing. Amazon and the union could also file actions to contest the outcome. Both parties have challenged the eligibility of hundreds of votes in total.

Amazon faces pressure from staff world-wide to change workplace policies related to employees' break times, pay and the rate at which they prepare packages. Employees are expected to fulfill hundreds of orders an hour while being monitored by Amazon and having two to three breaks during what can typically be 10-hour shifts. Amazon has said employees can take breaks when needed.

Both the union and Amazon used a variety of tactics to reach workers, including mailing leaflets and sending texts. Amazon held meetings with employees to discourage them from voting to unionize and posted signs around the warehouse.

Celebrities and politicians from both major political parties voiced support for the Bessemer workers, casting their effort as part of a wider battle for equality for working people and a check on Amazon's growth and power. President Biden in February called the election a "vitally important choice," and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida publicly expressed support for the unionization effort, as did actors and athletes.

Union supporters and the company increasingly clashed as the final ballots were turned in. Dave Clark and Jay Carney, both senior executives at Amazon, have used Twitter, highlighting Amazon's pay and benefits, to counter claims by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a frequent adversary, that the company mistreats its workers.

Paul Ziobro and Inti Pacheco contributed to this article.

Write to Sebastian Herrera at Sebastian.Herrera@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

04-09-21 1117ET

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