BESSEMER, Ala. — Despite a cold, steady rain, more than 100 unionists and community supporters held a spirited solidarity rally here Feb. 6 not far from the huge Amazon fulfillment center where workers are fighting to win union recognition. The rally was very visible, in a muddy field next to the restaurants, hotels and gas stations that are clustered by the Interstate 20 exit to Bessemer.
“We can make a difference, a change in the conditions at Amazon, if we get organized into a union,” Darryl Richardson, a picker at the Amazon fulfillment center, told the crowd. Voting by the over 5,000 workers at the warehouse on union recognition, conducted by mail, began Feb. 8. Efforts by Amazon bosses to have the election put off had been rejected by the National Labor Relations Board three days earlier.
‘Workers need to organize’
“Before I started at Amazon 10 months ago,” Richardson told the Militant, “I worked for nine years at a plant that made parts for the Mercedes-Benz assembly plant near Tuscaloosa, where I live. We were in the United Auto Workers and it made a difference in how we were treated. That plant closed in 2018, so when Amazon opened last March, I came here.”
Richardson said he could see right away that workers at Amazon needed to organize. “My family has been union going way back.”
Fellow Amazon worker Jennifer Bates joined Richardson to speak at the rally, along with labor officials and others. Workers at the fulfillment center are trying to win union recognition for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
Many of the workers who originally signed union cards at Amazon are relatives of union members, Joshua Brewer, an organizing director for the RWDSU, said at the rally. “This is a union town. It’s long been a union town, and it’s going to continue to be a union town.”
The union organized the rally, with support from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Teamsters and Communications Workers of America. Officials from the United Steelworkers, United Mine Workers, UAW and several other unions in Alabama were also on hand, along with representatives of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists from Atlanta.
“It’s our time, not just here in Alabama, in the city of Bessemer, but in all of the United States,” Bates told the rally. “It’s time for us to take a stand and it’s time for us to speak out against unfair wages and for our dignity.”
Randy Hadley, president of the RWDSU Mid-South Council, told the rally that the union vote, which runs through March 29, is important because it can set a precedent for organizing other Amazon facilities and at other large tech companies. “Let’s make a difference in our future,” he said.
Other speakers included Bren Riley, president of the Alabama AFL-CIO, and Eric Richardson from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
John Anari and Julian Howay, originally from West Papua, came to the rally from Atlanta with members of the Socialist Workers Party who work at Walmart. Anari and Howay, both warehouse workers, talked with rally participants about West Papua’s struggle for independence from Indonesia.
“This was a great experience,” said Anari, “to be part of a labor demonstration and to bring solidarity to the Amazon workers.”
Some SWP members from Louisville, Kentucky, drove down to take part. One of them — Samir Hazboun — brought a solidarity video he got from Todd Dunn, president of UAW Local 862. The local organizes workers at the two Ford plants in Louisville.