The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rejected Amazon.com’s request to delay a unionization vote at the company’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse, clearing the way for the closely watched election to begin next week.

Amazon last month had asked the regulator to halt the vote to give officials time to reconsider the company’s proposal to conduct the election in person at the warehouse, despite the prevalence of COVID-19 in the region. The company had argued that it could conduct a vote safely and that mail balloting risked lower turnout or potentially fraudulent ballots.

“The public interest and safety of all involved in the election is best served, at this time, by avoiding the type of in-person gatherings that a manual election entails,” Marvin Kaplan and John Ring, the NLRB’s two Republican members, said in a brief order on Friday denying Amazon’s request. They were joined in the decision by Chairman Lauren McFerran, a Democrat.

The agency will mail ballots to some 5,800 workers at the warehouse next week, and they must be returned by March 29. Workers at the facility filed paperwork in November calling for an election, seeking to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. It’s the largest union vote to date at Amazon, which has long had an adversarial relationship with organized labor and has managed to avoid unions in its U.S. operations.

The company has been pulling Bessemer workers into anti-union meetings in an effort to persuade them to vote no.

“Once again Amazon workers have won another fight in their effort to win a union voice,” union president Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement. “Amazon’s blatant disregard for the health and safety of its own workforce was demonstrated yet again by its insistence for an in-person election in the middle of the pandemic. Today’s decision proves that it’s long past time that Amazon start respecting its own employees; and allow them to cast their votes without intimidation and interference.”

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Amazon said its goal is to increase turnout among employees, and that NLRB data shows elections conducted by mail have a lower participation rate.

“We’re disappointed by the decision by the NLRB not to provide the most fair and effective format to achieve maximum employee participation,” Maria Boschetti, a company spokesperson, said in a statement. “Amazon proposed a safe on-site election process validated by COVID-19 experts that would have empowered our associates to vote on their way to, during and from their already scheduled shifts. We will continue to insist on measures for a fair election that allows for a majority of our employee voices to be heard.”

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