The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has finally begun counting ballots cast by Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, in one of the most widely-watched union elections in recent U.S. history.
Votes are being counted by hand in Birmingham, in front of a Zoom audience of reporters, union officials, Amazon representatives, and other observers.
Amazon is the nation's second largest employer, and has long taken an anti-union stance toward its workforce. Working conditions at Amazon are famously brutal, with serious injury rates that are double the warehouse industry average. If the union wins, it would be the first to represent workers at an Amazon warehouse in the United States.
The vote count follows months of round-the-clock campaigning by both sides, a six-week mail-in election that ended on March 29, and more than a week of union and Amazon representatives tabulating and challenging ballots behind closed doors.
On Wednesday evening, the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced that 3,215 ballots were cast, which is roughly 55 percent of the facility's 5,800 eligible voters. Hundreds of ballots were challenged, mainly by Amazon during the private tabulation period, the union said. These ballots will be opened after the initial vote count and could be critical if neither side wins an outright majority of the cast ballots.
In the lead-up to the election at the Bessemer, Alabama warehouse, the company held compulsory anti-union meetings, created an anti-union website, posted anti-union talking points around its warehouse, including in bathroom stalls, mailed out voting instructions on how to vote 'no' in the election, and shortened the timer on a streetlight outside of the warehouse to make it harder for organizers to talk to workers on their shift changes.
The union drive also attracted the support of celebrities and politicians including Senator Bernie Sanders, whose visit to the facility in support of workers was met by a disastrous attempt by Amazon to troll the opposition, lie about its working conditions, and deflect blame to other companies.
Pro-union workers say they want a union in order to have a voice in how the company determines its grueling productivity requirements, break policies, and disciplinary system.