Why the Amazon unionization vote could take a week — or longer — to resolve

The end of the seven-week mail-in voting period will give way to hand-counting, vote challenges and legal maneuvering

Amazon distribution center in Bessemer, Ala., is the center of a potentially groundbreaking unionization effort. When Amazon found out that workers were trying to form a union, a worker said Wednesday, March 17, 2021, that the company put up signs across the warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., including in bathroom stalls. (Bill Barrow/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

SEATTLE — The balloting in the high-stakes, high-profile union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama ends Monday, but the final tally may take days, or even weeks or months, to determine.

More than 5,800 workers at the e-commerce giant’s Bessemer, Ala., warehouse are choosing whether to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The union drive has mushroomed into one of the most important labor battles in recent history, even drawing the attention of President Biden, who tweeted a video late last month saying workers should be able to make their decision in union elections without pressure from the company.

But it won’t be decided quickly. The first step is to count the votes, and there are several opportunities in that process for both Amazon and the union to contest results. They could challenge whether a ballot was properly signed, whether it’s real or even if the worker who cast it is legitimate.

“That’s not the end of the story, though,” said Alexander Colvin, dean of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Amazon fights aggressively to defeat union drive in Alabama, fearing a coming wave

After the counting is done, the losing side could challenge the results through the National Labor Relations Board or in court, which could delay the outcome for weeks if not longer.

(Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The vote is Amazon’s first in the United States since 2014. A victory by the union could spark organizing campaigns at Amazon facilities around the world and has already led to more than 1,000 of Amazon’s U.S. workers contacting the RWDSU to see what it might take to start an organizing drive at their facilities.

“The size of this facility and the fact that it’s Amazon makes this stand out,” said Rebecca Givan, a labor studies professor at Rutgers University.

The tallying of worker ballots begins at the NLRB’s Birmingham, Ala., office at 10 a.m. local time Tuesday, and will be conducted virtually, with Amazon and the RWDU allowed four observers each to tune into the count.

Here’s why the workers are unionizing, how the vote tallying is expected to play out and when it might end.