Who Won Amazon’s Union Election in Bessemer? The Results Could Take Time

It’s been a star-studded, action-packed seven weeks since the union ballots shipped to the workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, fulfillment center on February 8. President Joe Biden tweeted out a video of support. Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, and The Matrix director Lilly Wachowski signed a petition urging workers to vote yes. Amazon’s PR team started a Twitter beef with several Congressmembers including Bernie Sanders, who visited Bessemer on Friday, over issues like whether or not their workers pee in bottles. (They do.) In short, the union election—the first at a US Amazon warehouse—has blossomed into the highest-profile labor event in a generation.The campaign has been featured in at least 53,000 stories by more than 2,000 reporters spanning two dozen countries and six continents, according to Chelsea Connor, the very-in-demand communications director for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which is vying to represent the workers. Today marks the end of the voting phase: The warehouse’s 5,800 eligible workers have until the end of the day to get their ballots into the hands of National Labor Relations Board officials. Then all eyes turn to the board’s Birmingham office, where, starting tomorrow, NLRB staffers will begin tallying up the votes. For the union to win, a majority of those votes need to be “yes.”

Fair warning: You’re not going to get the result overnight.

If even half of the eligible workers return ballots, it could take days for the board to finish its tally. NLRB representatives will conduct a hand count in front of observers from both sides, first extracting each ballot from its signed yellow envelope. As officials read off the names, both sides can (and probably will) issue challenges, either on procedural grounds—things like unreadable signatures—or by disputing a worker’s eligibility to vote. Challenged ballots will be set aside, and the remaining anonymized ballots will be placed inside a ballot box for a public count. If, after the count, the number of challenged ballots is enough to affect the outcome, it means more waiting. The regional board will hold a hearing to rule on the disputed votes, potentially adding weeks to the process.
Things could get gnarlier from there. After the tally, each side has seven days to file objections to the way the election was conducted, including charges of Unfair Labor Practices. In an election that saw an unmarked ballot box of mysterious origin appear on company grounds, a website spread misleading information about dues-paying, and the timing change on a traffic light where organizers talked to workers, some observers believe the RWDSU has ample grist for a ULP charge or three against Amazon. A guilty verdict could overturn the results or trigger a do-over. Outside of the election process, there’s also the little-deployed option of suing the NLRB directly, should either side believe the agency mishandled the election. While this is rare, this election has been anything but ordinary.The Bessemer warehouse opened one year ago this month, just as the rest of the country began shutting down. As demand for ecommerce exploded, workers there pushed to meet demanding productivity quotas while grappling with their own safety concerns. In June, a worker named Darryl Richardson began Googling unions and found the RWDSU. He filled out a form on their website. In late summer, he and other workers snuck off to hotels, restaurants, and parks to meet with organizers. In November they filed for an election, held by mail because of high Covid-19 case counts around Bessemer.
The workers began their drive on the heels of the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. Over 80 percent of the facility’s workers are Black, and the BLM organization has since become a partner, leading a horn-blaring “Union Yes” caravan around the fulfillment center a couple weekends ago. RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum sees the Bessemer campaign as “renewing the alliance between the civil rights movement and the labor movement.” Black and immigrant workers, whose labor has long been exploited in the US, have often led the fight for labor rights. In 1963, RWDSU organizers helped plan Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.