“You are ready to stand up and say that every worker in this country deserves to have decent wages, decent working conditions, decent social benefits and to be treated with dignity, not like a robot,” said the senator from Vermont.
About 5,800 workers at the company’s Bessemer, Alabama sorting plant are taking part in a high-stakes vote to determine their membership in the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Voting ends on March 29.
“What you are doing takes a tremendous amount of courage, and what you are doing is not just for yourself, your children and your families – what you are doing is for workers across the country,” said Sanders .
A potential union in the country’s second-largest retailer, owned by one of the world’s richest men, could mark a turning point for the American workforce, facing a growing wealth gap and lingering economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic despite the growing fortunes of Amazon and other companies.Read more:
“They know that if you are successful here it will spread across the country,” Sanders said. “If you’re successful here, workers across the country will say, ‘If these guys from Alabama could take on the richest man in the world, we can do it too.’
Mr Sanders has repeatedly criticized Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for his company’s opposition to the union effort.
The senator invited him to testify at a Senate Budget Committee hearing on the state of income inequality in the United States earlier this month. He refused.
The Bessmer facility opened in early 2020, imprinting a $ 361 million investment (backed by more than $ 3 million in tax incentives) in the Deep South. Its workforce is made up of 80% blacks.
Workers sought better and safer working conditions, including risk premium provisions and an end to the company’s practice of almost constant surveillance of workers.
At a committee hearing on March 17, Jennifer Bates, an Amazon employee, said management at the Alabama plant pressured employees with “anti-union” messages in the washroom, in text messages to workers’ phones and in individual messages about sorting. installation floor.
“Despite all of this, or maybe because of it, we have continued to build support for the union,” she said. “It’s frustrating that all we want to do is make Amazon a better place to work, but Amazon acts like it’s under attack.”
She said the union campaign wanted to make Amazon “as good a business for workers as it is for shareholders.”
“I’m tired of screaming and no one is listening to me,” Alabama union organizer Mike Foster said on Friday. “I am tired of seeing poverty and only a certain group of people get richer on a regular basis. This is not the America that I have heard of. This is not the dream I have heard of.
Amazon officials widely welcomed criticism of the company, but rejected the company’s characterizations regarding its working conditions.
Dave Clark, CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer Operations, was widely mocked this week for calling Amazon the “Bernie Sanders of Employers” – the company raised its minimum wage to $ 15 after growing pressure from Mr. Sanders and organizers work.
Amazon has also dismissed complaints that workers urinated in bottles to meet workplace demands – documents released this week refuted those claims.
The union campaign has drawn a growing network of high-level support from union activists and politicians who embarked on the historic campaign – rapper and activist Killer Mike joined Sanders on Friday, a congressional delegation returned visit to workers earlier this month, and President Joe Biden released a video statement to “workers in Alabama” stating that “every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union.”
More than a dozen Democratic lawmakers in the state of Alabama also signed a letter supporting the efforts of labor unions.
“Unions give workers a powerful way to protect themselves from unsafe working conditions, exploitation and unfair wages,” the letter read. “We stand alongside the Amazon workers in Bessemer, struggling to create a better life for themselves and for workers around the world. Your courage is inspiring and your campaign is important: what is happening in Alabama affects the entire nation. ”