Organizers and workers are making the last ditch effort in the first U.S. Amazon Warehouse Union election in Bessemer, Alabama, which, if successful, would mark one of the biggest union victories in the U.S. United over the past decades.
The fight to form a union within the hugely profitable tech and retail giant has sparked immense political interest and pushed labor rights into the headlines of the United States, especially during the pandemic. of coronavirus, when warehouse workers for online retail became a critical workforce.
Workers’ ballots must reach the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board in Alabama by March 29 to be counted. The majority of votes cast determines the outcome of the election, with approximately 5,800 employees entitled to vote.
Ballots for the election were sent to workers on February 8. Amazon’s attempts to delay the vote and force an in-person election were rejected by the National Labor Relations Board.
The union effort has received several high-level endorsements, including a video posted by President Joe Biden affirming his support for the right of workers to organize unions, endorsements from several members of Congress including Senator Bernie Sanders and Republican Senator Marco Rubio, other unions such as the NFL Players Association, the MLB Players Association, the support of Black Lives Matter and several local organizations.
Darryl Richardson, a picker who helped launch the organizing campaign after contacting the Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores Union last year, said the broad support for the organizing effort had helped a lot. .
“It made a big difference because we had a lot of employees who didn’t understand or know anything about the union or what the union could bring to the company. With the help of everyone supporting us around the world, it changed people’s ideas about how to vote, ”said Richardson. “You had employees indecisive about it, confused about it, who were going to vote ‘no’, but now the roles have changed, and many have come in and said they were going to vote ‘yes’.”
The organizing drive in Alabama has amplified wider discussions about Amazon’s role in growing wealth and income inequality in the United States and the racial justice issues that have been further exposed during the coronavirus pandemic. Union organizers estimate that 85 percent of Alabama warehouse workers are black. Among Amazon workers in the United States, 27% are black.
On March 17, the US Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on America’s income and wealth inequality crisis, where Jennifer Bates, a Bessemer Amazon warehouse worker, noted during her testimony: “We , workers, made billions for Amazon. I often say we’re the billionaires – we just can’t spend it.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos declined an invitation to participate in the hearing.
According to a Brookings Institution analysis, Amazon profits increased by $ 9.4 billion from 2019, and Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos saw his net worth increase by nearly 68 billion of dollars. The report noted that Amazon could have quintupled the risk premium it was paying workers during the pandemic and exceeded 2019 profits.
Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, was one of many high-level visitors to the Bessemer labor base during the union election. She noted that Amazon’s Alabama union election has broader connotations for the entire American labor movement and the dignity of workers.
“They have turned the eyes of the whole world to Bessemer, Alabama, and there is a lot of pride in that,” said Nelson. “They are entering a new era of organization. Whether they get the vote in this election to win or not, they have already won because they have sowed in the consciousness of workers around the world who feel they have no respect where they live and work and are not happy. where they are, that they don’t have to take it, and they actually have a way to fight back.
Amazon has firmly opposed organizing for years in the United States, successfully crushing previous attempts to organize in the United States, although it did not face a company-wide organizing effort. the Bessemer warehouse.
Richardson and other Amazon workers involved in the organizing drive fought for months against an aggressive anti-union campaign by Amazon.
Amazon spends nearly $ 10,000 a day plus spending on anti-union consultants for the union election, as workers regularly faced captive audience meetings encouraging workers to vote against the union, were inundated with text messages , anti-union advertisements, flyers and posters around the warehouse, and an anti-union website was launched. More recently, during the election, a USPS mailbox was set up in the warehouse and instructions were sent to workers on how to vote against the union.
A December 2019 Economic Policy Institute report found employers accused of breaking federal law in over 54% of union elections with large bargaining units, and U.S. employers spending around $ 340 million per year for consultants specializing in union avoidance.
Amazon’s anti-union arguments frequently cited the company’s $ 15 minimum wage and claimed the company already offered everything a union would offer, while emphasizing union dues. A recent New York Times report noted that Amazon’s starting wage at $ 15 an hour is about $ 3 less than the median wage in metro Birmingham, Alabama, and that workers nearby warehouses with unionized workers receive higher wages.
“I really feel like we’re going to win,” added Richardson. “If the union enters, the power will divide and the people will have a voice. You will have someone who will represent you to make sure you are not fired just because they will make sure that you are treated fairly, that you work in a safe environment, and that promotions are fair. The union can make a difference. “