Why the Amazon union vote is taking so long and what could come next

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An Amazon-sponsored billboard urging employees to return their unionization ballots is seen on March 28, 2021 in Bessemer, Alabama.Elijah Nouvelage | Getty Images

Amazon workers around the world are anxiously awaiting the results of a high-stakes union election at one of the company’s warehouses in Bessemer, Alabama. 

Last Monday, voting wrapped up in the election to determine whether roughly 5,800 workers at the Bessemer warehouse, known as BHM1, will join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Vote counting began last Tuesday and the public portion of the count is expected to begin as soon as Wednesday.

The effort has shaped up to be one of the most consequential union elections in recent history. If they win, the workers would establish the first union at a U.S. Amazon facility, marking a major victory for workers in the face of Amazon’s staunch anti-union efforts

Outside of Alabama, the election is being closely watched by workers, labor advocates, politicians and other groups for its potential to kickstart future organizing attempts elsewhere. The RWDSU has already heard from more than 1,000 U.S. Amazon workers who are eager to organize their workplace. 

With ballots mailed in and vote counting underway, it may seem like Amazon and the RWDSU are nearing the finish line in the union election. But the process is likely far from over. Both sides can contest ballots and, depending on the outcome of the vote, further legal battles could lie down the road. 

Here’s what to expect as the union election continues: 

What’s happening now 

Last Tuesday, the first stage of counting kicked off via a private video conference. During this portion, the NLRB will call out each voter’s name, which is listed on a yellow envelope that contains a sealed blue envelope with their marked ballot inside. The actual ballot that lists each worker’s vote is anonymous.

Both Amazon and the RWDSU will be allowed to contest ballots based on factors like whether an employee’s job title entitles them to vote or an illegible signature. Employee eligibility could shape up to be a major reason for contested ballots, as turnover at Amazon warehouses can be high. Additionally, Reuters reported last month