MOULTRIE -- The National Beef unionization issue is still up in the air.

In a neck-and-neck vote Friday, it appears that workers voted down the union 160 to 154 out of 338 voting-eligible production and maintenance employees, National Beef Human Resources Director Charlie Crapps said. One vote in the secret ballot election was void.

But 14 ballots were challenged and sealed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which conducted the representation election, and they have yet to be counted.

It was undetermined at press time if the NLRB would count the 14 votes. Generally, NLRB will not certify the results for at least a week.

"That's something we're discussing right now," said Bill Garrison, executive assistant for the Southeast Region of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

"I'm going to check with the board to see if we can open them up and count those ballots."

This election was a strange one, said the union representative, who has been working for the UFCW for 21 years, because of the close count and the number of challenges by both parties.

Of the 14, two votes were cast by employees the UFCW believes were pro-union and were promoted to a non-bargaining unit the day just before the election.

Workers brought in the union three months ago, complaining they were overworked and that management had not fulfilled promises made at the time of the first union election last spring. At that time, 203 workers voted against the union out of 360 ballots cast. A couple of months later, quality assurance workers voted for union representation.

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