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A banner encouraging workers to vote in union balloting hangs at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., on March 30, 2021.Jay Reeves/The Associated Press

Vote counting started on Thursday in Inc.’s closely watched union election in Alabama, whose outcome will have far-reaching implications for U.S. organized labour.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the agency overseeing the election, received 3,215 ballots, or a voter turnout of about 55 per cent, from the warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., according to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

So far more than 300 votes were against unionizing and more than 150 votes were for the warehouse to become the first Amazon facility ever to unionize in the United States. The vote count is expected to take hours and could extend into Friday or later.

The labour board held a video call and set up multiple cameras so participants and media could watch its regulators count the votes.

Neither Amazon nor union officials were immediately available for comment.

The vote count followed more than a week of challenges to hundreds of 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 labour board is expected to adjudicate the challenges in coming days.

Amazon for years has discouraged attempts among its more than 800,000 U.S. employees to organize, including by showing managers how to identify union activity, raising wages and warning union dues would cut into pay, according to a prior training video, public statements and the company’s union election website.

Those efforts, plus allegations by some staff of an arduous or unsafe workplace, have made unionizing Amazon a key goal for the U.S. labour movement, which is aiming to reverse long-running declines. Union membership fell to 11 per cent of the eligible work force in 2020 from 20 per cent in 1983, the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics has said.

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.

Stuart Appelbaum, the RWDSU’s president, has said more than 1,000 Amazon workers from other warehouses have asked if they could join the union.

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