Vote count in pivotal Amazon union election likely to start next week

FILE PHOTO: Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery in the Manhattan borough of New York City, January 29, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

(Reuters) - Workers at an Inc warehouse in Alabama will likely have to wait until next week for a vote count that could result in the online retailer’s first unionized facility in the United States and mark a watershed moment for organized labor.

The U.S. National Labor Relations Board is sifting through ballots in a closed hearing, a process that could last several more days and spark legal challenges.

The public tally of the ballots sent to more than 5,800 workers at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bessemer is unlikely to kick off before Monday, one person familiar with the proceedings said. Another source with direct knowledge of the plan said earlier that the count is expected to begin Friday or early next week.

Amazon and union representatives are currently weighing in on the eligibility of votes cast, and the parties may attempt to clear some challenges to ballots before the public hearing begins, one of the sources said.

Votes are then expected to be counted in groups of 100, the source said. Later procedures and objections may further delay the election outcome.

Amazon has fought against the unionization attempt by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), in an election that may influence the future of labor organizing at America’s second largest private employer after Walmart Inc. Amazon has more than 800,000 employees nationwide.

Amazon has said in a statement: “Our employees know the truth—starting wages of $15 or more, health care from day one, and a safe and inclusive workplace. We encouraged all of our employees to vote and hope they did so.”

RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum has said: “This campaign has already been a victory in many ways. Even though we don’t know how the vote will turn out, we believe we have opened the door to more organizing around the country.”

Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco and Reporting by Mike Spector in New York; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose; Editing by Lisa Shumaker