The hand counting of votes will continue on Friday in a high-profile, high-stakes election that will determine whether Amazon workers in Alabama will form the company's first unionized warehouse in the U.S.
At the end of Thursday, more than two-thirds of the tallied votes were against unionizing, with no votes outnumbering yes votes 1,100 to 463.
A total of 3,215 ballots had been cast by Amazon workers on whether they wanted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. That's about 55% of all the workers at the warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., who were eligible to vote.
Hundreds of ballots have been challenged mostly by Amazon, according to the union. That means they aren't included in the current tally, but may play a big role if the result is close enough for those ballots to sway the outcome. The legal process for the National Labor Relations Board to decide whether to count the contested ballots could take weeks.
Regardless of the outcome, the losing side was expected to challenge the election and potentially seek to overturn the result.
The union, for example, has been raising concerns about Amazon's actions to influence the vote. One of those actions was Amazon's push to install a USPS mailbox right outside the warehouse, which the union argues tainted the vote. The union also argues the mailbox went against the NLRB's ruling that rejected Amazon's request to put ballot boxes at the warehouse for in-person voting.
"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," the union's President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement on Thursday evening. "But make no mistake about it; this still represents an important moment for working people and their voices will be heard."
Amazon did not immediately respond on Thursday, but in the past the company has argued the union doesn't represent the majority of its workers' views, touting its pay and benefits. About the mailbox, Amazon has said the USPS installed it for the convenience of workers, while Amazon's tent around it made voting "convenient, safe, and private."
A handful of NLRB agents are tabulating the anonymous ballots by hand, calling out each vote and depositing green slips into plastic bins with hand-written signs for "yes," "no," "void" and "challenge." The procedure is being streamed online for representatives of Amazon, the union and preregistered members of the media and the general public.
Why is this union vote so highly watched? Here are some overviews of what's at stake:
- The Bessemer workers are deciding whether to form Amazon's first unionized warehouse in America.
- Amazon unleashed a strong push to sway Bessemer workers to vote against unionizing.
- The vote is the most consequential labor battle in the U.S. in recent history.
- A vote to unionize would shake up history for both Amazon and Alabama.
Editor's note: Amazon is among NPR's recent financial supporters.