Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama that drew national headlines to their drive to create a union last year are getting a second chance after federal labor officials approved guidance on how to conduct the vote on Tuesday.

In new regulations ordered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), it was decided that the vote would be conducted by mail starting on Feb. 4 and must be completed by March 28 when counting of the vote was set to begin. This was done following an earlier finding by the NLRB in November where regulators faulted Amazon for complicating how the vote was organized.

NLRB Regional Director Lisa Henderson singled out Amazon's installation of a U.S. Postal Service mailbox at the main employee entrance, which she said may have created the false impression that the company was conducting the election. This, she added, undermined Amazon's argument that it was simply trying to make voting easier and that it was trying to bolster turnout.

"The employer's flagrant disregard for the board's typical mail-ballot procedure compromised the authority of the board and made a free and fair election impossible," Henderson said in her ruling at the time. "By installing a postal mailbox at the main employee entrance, the employer essentially hijacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process. This dangerous and improper message to employees destroys trust in the board's processes and in the credibility of the election results."

In a statement provided to the Associated Press, a spokeswoman for Amazon defended the vote last year as well as the result, but said the company looked forward to having its team in Bessemer "having their voices heard again."

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the national union that helped organize the earlier vote in 2020 at the Bessemer warehouse, however, was skeptical about the order to vote by mail. It said that it offered concerns and remedies to the NLRB to use instead of mail-in votes, which it warned did not stop Amazon from interfering.

"We are deeply concerned that the decision fails to adequately prevent Amazon from continuing its objectionable behavior in a new election," said the union in a statement posted after the NLRB decision was handed down.

The initial vote was held to improve working conditions at the Amazon facility in Alabama. At warehouses across the country, Amazon workers have spoken out against grueling work conditions and this has inspired new regulations to address these abuses.

In the first vote to unionize, about 53% of the nearly 6,000 workers cast ballots. Of these, 1,798 voted against unionization versus the 738 who voted to unionize.

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