Organizing Gravediggers, Cereal Makers and, Maybe, Amazon Employees

A group of gradeweighers in Columbus, Ohio, which negotiated just a 3 percent increase. The hen plant that processes chicken nuggets for McDonald’s. Cap’n Crunch-making laborers in Iowa. Women’s Shoe Department at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

Retail, wholesale and department store union The United States does not have the largest labor union, but may be one of the most liberal. It has a membership of about 100,000 workers, reaching every conceivable corner of the American economy, from cradle (they make gerber baby food) to graves (those cemetery workers in Columbus).

And now it’s potentially on the tail Breaking in amazon, One of the most prominent companies in the world, which has beaten everyone back since its inception Attempt to organize Any part of its large-scale workforce in the United States.

This month, Bessemer, Ala. A group of 5,800 workers at Amazon’s warehouse in New York are voting to join RWDSU. Mass union vote In Amazon’s history, and a decision held by workers, there would be implications for the labor movement across the country, particularly retail giants such as Amazon and Walmart that have gained power – and added workers during the epidemic.

Amazon campaign, Stuart Appelbaum, president of the union, said, “is about the future of work and how working people will be treated in the new economy.”

For some labor activists, the union at Bessemer Warehouse and its early success represent the facade of modern organizing campaigns. It is outspoken on social issues and savvy on social media – posting TikTok videos Tweeting for support of rapper Killer Mike and support from the National Football League Players Association during the Super Bowl.

“It’s a bit of a weirdo-duck union,” said Joshua Freeman, a professor of labor history at Queens College at City University in New York. “They keep morphing over the years and have been very inventive in their strategy.”

The union is also racially, geographically and politically diverse. Established during a day of organized labor in New York City in 1937 – and perhaps best known for representing workers in Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s – most of its members now work in right-to-work states across the South and the rural Midwest.

While the union’s overall membership has stabilized over the past decade, the number of members in its Mid-South office, which includes Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana, has nearly doubled, from 4,700 in 2011 to nearly 9,000, through aggressive recruitment efforts. Is inspired. Poultry, Warehousing and Health Care Industries. More than half of its members across the country are activists of color.

In the Mid-South office, which is leading the event at Amazon, local officials begin almost every meeting with a prayer, leaning in favor of gun rights and saying that half of their members donned Donald J. Supported Trump’s re-election bid. (Unlike the National Union, which publicly supported President Biden, the Southern Office did not endorse any candidate.)

“We are known as the Church Union,” said Randy Headley, president of the Mid-South Council. “We put God first, family second, and then our jobs.”

The Retail and Wholesale Workers Union is run nationally by Mr. Appelbaum, a Harvard Law School graduate and former Democratic Party operative from Hartford, Conn. written record About his identity as a gay, Jewish labor leader.

Since becoming union president in 1998, Mr. Appelbaum has created a niche by mobilizing workers from a wide variety of businesses: airline caterers, fast fashion stores in a cannabis grow house, and gardeners. “When you buy a joint, look at the union label,” Mr. Appelbaum joked.

The strategy has helped the union continue to thrive, even as its core work force in brick-and-mortar retail stores continues to shrink as online shopping continues.

The union often engages its organized campaigns in a broader struggle to advance the rights of vulnerable workers, such as gay, lesbian, trans, and nonwage employees and unnatural migrants working in city carwashes, to sex toy shops in New York. .

After World War II, the union advocated black soldiers being laid out of jobs at Macy’s, who paid the highest commissions. “It has a history of being a militant, feudalistic, leftist mob,” Professor Freeman said.

Even the Alabama office, which leans to the right on some issues, has stood up for workers in a locally unpopular manner.

Mr Hadley said one of his greatest achievements was negotiating a paid holiday at Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan at the Tyson Poultry Plant in Tennessee, where a large number of Somali immigrants work Huh.

“We had Muslims at the facility, they said, ‘We look at that day like Christmas,’ and I thought, ‘Whom should I judge?’ “I said, ‘Let’s do it.”

Credit …Retail, wholesale and department store union

in 2008, The Muslim holiday Labor Day was replaced because one of the paid holidays was allowed in the workers’ facility, and some criticized it as the United Nations.

Over the years, the Sangh has faced some powerful enemies. In the 1960s, its black organizers were threatened – one was even shot – while trying to sign food industry workers throughout the South.

Johnny Whitaker, a former dairy worker who began as a union organizer in the 1970s, said he grew up in a white family in Hanesville, Ala. Nevertheless, when he started getting organized in poultry plants years ago, he was shocked to see the working conditions and racism.

Black workers were classified differently from their white counterparts and were paid much less. She stated that women were expected to engage in sexual acts with managers for more hours. Many activists could not read or write.

Despite threats that they would lose their jobs if organized, thousands of poultry workers have joined RWDSU over the past three decades, although the industry is still predominantly non-medical.

When a small group of Amazon workers approached the union in late August about their interest in organizing the Bessemer warehouse, Mr Whitaker admitted, “there was internally a lot of skepticism” about the idea.

RWDSU had tried a grassroots effort to organize Amazon’s warehouse in Staten Island in 2019, but the effort failed when the company pulled the plug on its plan to build a second headquarters in New York, known as HQ2 Known to allow organizing at its facilities, partly due to political pressure.

“What we learned from HQ2 was that Amazon was going to do anything it could possibly do to avoid a union at any of its workplaces,” Mr. Appelbaum said.

those days, Amazon stated that “many state and local politicians have made it clear that they have opposed our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationship necessary to move forward with the project.”

But the more workers in Alabama kept talking to the union about their work conditions, the more Mr. Appelbaum and others believed that the warehouse was fertile ground for organizing.

Workers described the control that Amazon keeps at its job, including tracking its time in the toilet or spending other time in the warehouse away from its primary function. Some workers have stated that they can be punished for taking too much time from their specific tasks.

“We’re talking about bathroom breaks,” said Mr. Wheetaker, an executive vice president at the union. “This is the year 2021 and workers are being punished for taking urine.”

In an email, an Amazon spokesman said the company does not punish workers for taking bathroom breaks. “They are not our policies,” she said. “People can take a bathroom break.”

The campaign in Bessemer has caused some strange political bedflows. Mr. Biden expressed his support for Alabama activists to vote independently in the mail-in election, which will conclude later this month. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida went even further, encouraging Bessemer workers to form unions in the Amazon to defend themselves against the “awakened culture”.

If the union in Bessemer wins the election, the efforts of the court cadres will continue. In a right-to-work state, workers are not required to pay union dues, even if they are represented by a union.

At a Quaker Oats plant in Iowa, which is also a right-to-work state, RWDSU finds ways to motivate workers to post the names of workers who have not yet joined the bulletin board.

“In a right-to-work situation, you’re always organized,” Mr. Hadley said.

On the afternoon of October 20, Mr. Headley met with about 20 organizers, before he set out towards the Bessemer warehouse, launching his campaign to sign workers. The plan was for the organizers to stand at the gate of the warehouse talking to the workers in the morning and in the evening when their shifts change. In a brief conversation with the group, Mr. Hadley invoked the story of David and Goliath.

“We’re going to be plaguing David twice a day,” he told the group, referring to Amazon. “He is going to see our union every morning when he comes to work, and I want us to think of him when he closes his eyes at night.”

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