(Reuters) -Efforts to unionize Amazon.com warehouse workers in Alabama were defeated on Friday by a more than 2-to-1 margin in a major win for the online retailer, but the union trying to organize workers was set to challenge the results, assailing the company's methods.
According to the latest unofficial tally, 1,798 voted against forming a union, with 738 ballots in favor. A simple majority is needed for victory, but both sides have the right to challenge the eligibility of ballots. Counting concluded and would next focus on adding up challenges and voided ballots but the margin of victory may be too much to change the outcome.
Amazon shares rose 0.8% Friday, adding to earlier gains.
Union leaders had hoped the election outside Birmingham would spark a new era of worker activism. Instead, it illustrated the continued challenges facing the labor movement, joining high-profile failures to start unions at auto and plane factories in the U.S. South.
The U.S. south has been an especially difficult region for unions to make inroads because many of those states, including Alabama, passed so-called right-to-work laws that curtail unions’ abilities to mandate dues and other measures.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which is trying to organize the Amazon employees, said it is filing objections, charging that Amazon interfered with the right of its Bessemer, Alabama employees to vote.
It has the same legal options as Amazon: challenge the eligibility of individual voters or allege that coercive conduct tainted the election.
In the latter case, the dispute would play out before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and then likely in a federal appeals court.
Unionizing Amazon, the second-largest private employer in America, would be a start to reverse long-running declines in union membership, which fell to 11% of the eligible workforce in 2020 from 20% in 1983, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The vote count followed more than a week of challenges to ballots during closed-door proceedings that could influence the final result. Lawyers for Amazon and the union were allowed to question ballots on suspicion of tampering, a voter's eligibility and other issues.
The union says there have been hundreds of contested ballots, making it unclear the number of votes needed to declare a winner.
The NLRB, which is overseeing the election, would adjudicate challenges in coming days.
Amazon for years has discouraged attempts among its more than 800,000 U.S. employees to organize, showing managers how to identify union activity, raising wages and warning that union dues would cut into pay, according to a prior training video, public statements and the company's union election website.
Amazon has said it is following all NLRB rules and wants employees to understand each side of the contest, and that the RWDSU does not represent a majority of its employees’ views. The company has said it wants as many of its employees to vote as possible.
The union objection will focus in part on what it described as Amazon pressuring the U.S. Postal Service to install a mail box and then pressuring employees to bring their ballots to work and use the mailbox.
(Reporting by Hilary Russ, Richa Naidu and Jeffrey Dastin; editing by Peter Henderson, Leslie Adler and Nick Zieminski)