The counting of votes that will determine whether a union can form at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., begins Tuesday. But the results of the union election, one of the most consequential in recent memory, may not be known until later this week or early next week because the vote can often involve a painstaking process that will be closely scrutinized by representatives from the union and Amazon.
The ballots, which were mailed out to workers in early February, must be signed and had to be received by the National Labor Relations Board at its Birmingham office by the end of Monday.
First, a staff member at the labor board will read the names of the workers, without opening an inner envelope with the actual ballot. Representatives from the union and Amazon will be on a private video conference. As each name is read, they will check the workers’ names against a staff list, and if either side contests whether that worker was eligible to vote, that ballot will be set aside. A representative from each side is also expected to be there in person to observe the process.
After the two sides have had the opportunity to make their objections about eligibility, the N.L.R.B. will begin counting the uncontested ballots. After every 100 votes, the labor board will count those ballots again until all the votes are counted. This portion will be open to reporters on a video conference line.
Retail Warehouse and Department Store union, which has led the organizing drive, and Amazon over the eligibility of each contested ballot. Each side has about a week to make its case before N.L.R.B. certifies the vote.
Either side can contest whether the vote was conducted fairly. The union, for instance, could argue that the company took steps to improperly sway the vote, by potentially making workers fearful of reprisal if they supported organizing.
If the union prevails, workers fear that the company may shut down the warehouse. Amazon has backed away from locations that brought it headaches before.
But the company has committed more than $360 million in leases and equipment for the Bessemer warehouse, and shutting down the vote of a large Black work force could publicly backfire, said Marc Wulfraat, a logistics consultant who closely tracks the company.