Amazon Workers’ Union Drive Reaches Far Beyond Alabama

National Football League players were the first to voice their support. This was followed by Stacey Abrams, a Democratic star who helped turn Georgia into blue in the 2020 election. Actor Danny Glover traveled to Bessemer, Ala., Last week for a news conference where he urged workers in the Amazon warehouse to hold the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for organizing a pro-union. Tina Fey is weighed in, and so is Senator Bernie Sanders.

Then on Sunday, President Biden issued a resounding declaration of solidarity with activists to form a union at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse, without naming the company. Posted on his official Twitter account, his video was one of the most poignant statements in support of the union by an American president in recent memory.

“Every worker should have a free and reasonable option to join a union,” Mr. Biden said.

A unionizing campaign that was Intentionally stay under the radar A star-studded performance has blossomed in recent days to impress workers. On the one hand, in the world of politics, sports and Hollywood, there are retail, wholesale and department store unions and many of its pro-labor allies. On the other hand is one of the world’s leading companies, an e-commerce behemoth that has parted from previous federal efforts at its American facilities in its more than 25-year history.

Attention is turning this union vote into a referendum, not only on the working conditions at the Bessemer warehouse, which employs 5,800, but the plight of low-paid employees and especially workers of color. Many employees at the Alabama warehouse are Black, a fact that union organizers have sought in their campaign to link the vote to the struggle for civil rights in the South.

The retail workers’ union has a long history of mobilizing black workers in the poultry and food production industries, helping them obtain basic benefits such as paid time off and safety protection and means of economic security. The union is portraying its efforts in Bessemer as part of that legacy.

“It is an event to work in one of the world’s largest companies in the South during an epidemic,” said Benjamin Sachs, a professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School. “The importance of a union victory cannot really be exaggerated.”

Warehouse staff began voting by post on 8 February and ballots are due later this month. A union can be formed if the majority of the votes support such a move.

Amazon’s countercampmarks, both inside the warehouse and on a national platform, zero in on net economics: that its starting wage is $ 15 an hour, plus profit. It far exceeds its rivals in Alabama, where the minimum wage is $ 7.25 per hour.

“It is important that employees understand the facts of joining the union,” Amazon spokesman Heather Knox said in a statement. “We will provide education about that and the election process so that they can take an informed decision. If the vote of the union passes, it will affect everyone on the site and it is important allies understand what this means for their day-to-day lives working on them and Amazon. “Company, which went on a Huge hiring spree As of last year Homebound customers sent their sales for a record $ 386 billion, recording more than $ 22 billion in profit.

In Alabama, some workers are growing tired of the process. One employee recently posted on Facebook: “This union stuff is happening on my nerves. Let it be on March 30th already !!! “

The situation is under trial, with union leaders accusing Amazon of a series of “union-busting” tactics.

The company has posted signs all over the warehouse, next to sanitizing stations, and even in bathroom stalls. It sends regular text and emails, pointing to problems with unions. This internal company posted photos of workers in Bessemer on the app saying how much they love Amazon.

In some training sessions, company representatives have pointed out the cost of union dues. When some activists have asked questions pointed at meetings, Amazon representatives rejoined them at their work centers to re-emphasize the downsides of unions, employees and organizers. The meetings stalled once voting began, but the signs are still on, said Jennifer Bates, a pro-union activist at the warehouse.

In this charged environment, even routine things have become suspicious. The union has raised questions about changing the timing of a traffic light near the warehouse where labor organizers try to talk to workers as they stop in their vehicles while leaving the facility.

Amazon asked county officials in mid-December to change the lighting time, although there is no evidence County record This change was made to thwart the union. “Traffic Shift for Amazon is backing around change,” public records The light changed due to the county.

Adventuress Regularly addresses traffic concerns Wasting unpaid time around their facilities, and in crowded parking lots is a constant hold of Amazon workers in Facebook groups.

But Stuart Appelboum, president of the Retail Workers Union, questioned the timing of the request in Bessemer, as it was at the height of the event. “When the light was red we could answer questions and have a brief conversation with the workers,” he said.

Last week, the union questioned the company’s offer to pay Alabama warehouse employees at least $ 1,000 if they left by the end of March. Mr. Appelbaum alleged that the company tried to lay off employees before the vote was over.

“They are trying to remove the most potential union supporters from their workforce and bribe them to cast their votes,” he said in an interview.

But “The Offer,” as it is known among employees, was what Amazon had built for workers in all of its warehouses around the country. It is an annual event that lets the company reduce its head count after an extreme holiday shopping season without layoffs. This is at least since 2014, when Jeff Bezos wrote about it in a shareholder letter.

“Once a year, we offer to pay our partners to leave,” Mr. Bezos said at the time. “In the long run, an employee wants to live somewhere that is not healthy for the employee or the company.”

Mr. Appelbaum was not swayed. He said he believed Amazon had chosen to make the offer in all of its warehouses when it did in Bessemer to help end the “yes” votes.

President Biden barred Amazon workers from urging them to form a union, but his statement immediately increased the stakes of an already campaign.

“I really need to be clear,” Mr. Biden said. “It is not for me to decide whether one should join a union or not. But let me be even more clear: it is not up to an employer to decide that either. The option to join a union is up to the workers. full stop.”

He said, “Activists in Alabama and across America are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace. It’s vitally important – a vitally important option.” And it’s one, he said, That should be made without intimidation or intimidation.

Despite the union’s skepticism, it has not filed any formal complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, Mr. Appelbaum said. Typically, unions can object to a company’s strategy before the election and step into the labor board.

If a complaint were to be filed, the Labor Board could potentially determine that the election is invalid due to Amazon’s actions. But after working for months to build support inside and outside Amazon’s warehouse, the union wants the Labor Board to intervene and make rules that the election should happen again. Voting has already been held in Bessemer for almost a month.

Mr. Sachs of Harvard Law School said that despite Mr. Biden’s companies interfering in elections, current labor law allows Amazon to hold some mandatory meetings with workers to discuss why they unions Should not create and enables the company. Post anti-union messages around the workplace.

“It is very useful that the president is abolishing these tips, but we need a new labor law to prevent companies from interfering,” he said.

It is rare to go by post for such a large union election. On Amazon’s objections, the Labor board required a mail-in vote after determining that it would risk contracting the federal election monitor Kovid-19 if they had to travel to Bessemer to oversee the person-to-person vote. Have to do it.

Pushing back aggressively against the union, Amazon angered Democrats in Washington, many of whom are already calling for more antitrust investigations of big tech companies whose businesses have also grown into an epidemic. Amazon has supported a public campaign to raise the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour to purchase major advertisements in The New York Times, The Washington Post and other publications.

In his video on Sunday, President Biden specifically mentioned how the epidemic could help “black and brown workers” and vulnerable workers struggling during the economic crisis.

One of the leaders of Union Drive, Ms. Bates, 48, began working at the Bessemer warehouse in May.

She said she felt insulted by some of Amazon’s anti-union efforts, particularly according to the company’s statements to employees that they would have to pay about $ 500 in union dues each year. Since Alabama is an empowering act, there is no requirement that a member of the union pay the arrears.

“It bothers me a little bit because I think they know the truth and they won’t tell the truth and are benefiting because they know that employees come from a community that is seen as black and low income, “Said Ms. Bates who is black. “It felt really terrible that you would stand there and deliberately mislead people. Give them the facts and let them decide. “

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