Amazon loses effort to install camera to watch ballot box in union vote

Rally organized by the Workers’ Assembly Against Racism in support of workers in the Amazon camp in Bessemer, Alabama, to unionize rights in Union Square across from Amazon’s Whole Foods Market.

Lev Radin | LightRocket | Getty Images

The National Labor Relations Board has denied Amazon’s request to install a video camera to keep an eye on boxes of thousands of ballot papers that are vital to a high-stakes union election in Alabama.

The closely watched vote in Bessemer, Alabama ended on Monday. Approximately 5,800 workers at the Bessemer facility were eligible to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores Union (RWDSU). Vote counting should begin Tuesday at 11:00 AM CET, but the final balance may be days or weeks away as Amazon and the RWDSU can contest ballots.

Amazon had attempted to place a video camera in the NLRB office in Birmingham, where the votes are tabulated, to keep an eye on the ballot boxes in the extra hours between counts. The camera feed would have been accessible to both Amazon and RWDSU.

“Although the postal vote on this matter is large, it is, as the employer claims, not ‘of a special nature’,” Lisa Henderson, acting regional director at the NLRB, said in the ruling. “The Region will conduct ballot counting with regard to observers participating through a virtual platform as well as personal observers and in accordance with the Agency’s procedures and protocols, including those used to secure the ballot boxes.”

Amazon declined to comment on the NRLB ruling. A RWDSU spokesman declined to comment.

Amazon had also urged the NLRB to apply other enhanced security measures in relation to the ballot boxes to prevent issues such as tampering.

According to the request, Amazon asked the NLRB to change or reset the security locks on the door of the storage room where the ballots are being kept, and to provide Amazon and RWDSU with an electronic or physical record of when the storage room door was opened during the Counting is opened Use tamper-evident tape on the ballot boxes or on the door of the storage room to ensure that no unauthorized access is made to the envelopes, ballot boxes or the storage room.

The motion is just the latest example of how controversial the union elections have become in Alabama. Amazon has not seen such a rigorous union movement since 2014 when repair technicians at a Delaware warehouse failed to get enough votes to form a union.

If successful, Alabama workers would set up the first union representation at a US Amazon plant. The campaign was supported by viewers in the US and overseas, including President Joe Biden, who issued extremely valuable endorsement of union action earlier this month.

Amazon, which has spoken out strongly against the union, had previously tried to delay union action in Alabama. She also failed to convince the NLRB to hold a face-to-face vote, arguing that a mail-in ballot could jeopardize voter turnout and increase the potential for fraud.

Although the seven-week mail-in voting period has come to an end, both Amazon and RWDSU are likely to have a long way to go in the campaign.

The count was due to begin Tuesday morning via a private video conference chaired by the NLRB. With Amazon and the RWDSU, four observers were able to monitor the count.

During this section, the NLRB reads the name of each voter and both sides are allowed to contest ballots, likely based on factors such as whether an employee’s job title entitles them to vote or an illegible signature. Controversial ballot papers are set aside.

Once this part is completed, the NLRB will begin counting the undisputed ballots in a public session open to members of the media. To win, the union must get a simple majority of the votes cast in Amazon’s Bessemer camp, known as BHM1.

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