Inc. workers at an Alabama warehouse voted not to join a retail union, a setback for labor organizers and a significant victory for the world’s largest online retailer.

The election wasn’t close. Of the more than 3,000 ballots cast, Amazon garnered 1,798 nos and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union won 738 yeses. While federal officials set aside 505 contested ballots -- most of them disputed by Amazon, according to the union-- there weren’t enough of those to change the result. The National Labor Relations Board, which oversees workplace union elections, began counting ballots on Thursday.

The union always faced a stiff challenge in Bessemer, Alabama, where Amazon’s $15-an-hour starting wage goes a lot further than it does in New York or San Francisco. The pandemic also precluded the RWDSU from holding large rallies. Amazon, meanwhile, had several advantages, not least that it could appeal directly to workers during mandatory “information sessions,” where company managers argued that a union wouldn’t necessarily improve their wages and benefits. Looming over the entire campaign was the implicit threat that Amazon could simply close the Bessemer warehouse.

“The result is a reflection of just how hard it is for workers to organize in workplaces where employers are free to bombard them with anti-union messages and sow fear and doubt throughout the work day,” said Rebecca Givan, an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. “Current labor law makes these attempts to win a voice on the job very very difficult.”

Even before the vote count had finished, the RWDSU pledged to contest the result and accused Amazon of various election violations, including the installation of a mailbox outside the facility in Bessemer, which the RWDSU said the company requested so it could watch employees submitting their mail-in ballots. The company has rejected that accusation, saying it simply had the mailbox installed to make it easier for workers to participate in the election.

Should the union win an appeal, the NLRB can throw out the election results and call a new vote.

The union’s defeat, if upheld, could demoralize labor activists and potentially curb stirrings of labor activism at Amazon’s other facilities. The loss is sure to redouble calls from the broader labor movement to overhaul federal labor laws governing union organizing, a goal that’s supported by the Biden administration but has eluded organized labor for decades.

“Our labor laws basically incentivize employers like Amazon and Walmart and small ones to break the law to prevent their workers from forming unions,” Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat who joined a delegation to Bessemer last month, said Friday on Bloomberg Television. “And that’s what happened.”

The outcome followed a hard-fought election that lasted seven weeks, attracted national attention and saw the union and Amazon engage in an information war that sometimes veered into conspiracy theories. In the campaign’s final days, a Twitter feud broke out between the company and such critics as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Amazon thanked its employees in Bessemer for participating in the election but quickly pivoted to pushing back on the union’s accusations about unfair practices during the campaign.

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