On the Picket Line

Union vote underway at Amazon warehouse in Alabama

By Susan Lamont
March 1, 2021

ATLANTA — Nearly 6,000 workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, began voting Feb. 8 on whether the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union should represent them in their efforts to improve wages and working conditions and defend their dignity on the job.

This union drive, which began last fall, is the largest and most serious effort yet by workers at any of the retail giant’s facilities. It is winning solidarity in the labor movement and support from other workers who learn about it.

It’s also getting attention in the business papers, as the bosses are concerned a “yes” vote would encourage further organizing efforts that would threaten their control and profits.

“I got my ballot yesterday,” Amazon worker Sharon Franklin, who requested that her real name not be used to protect her from retaliation, told the Militant in a phone interview Feb. 13. “Now I have to sit down, fill it out and send it back. There’s a mailbox by the Amazon center for people to drop their ballots in. The postage is prepaid, but you have to make sure you sign the back of it in the right way for it to be counted.

“I’m voting for the union,” Franklin said, “but I would say some of my co-workers are 50-50 on the vote. They’re concerned about losing the insurance and other benefits, which are pretty good compared to some other jobs in the area.”

Union representatives have been calling workers to talk about the vote and answer their questions, Franklin said, and the RWDSU has invited workers to a meeting to discuss their concerns and how they will benefit if they get union representation. Voting ends March 29.

Volunteer RWDSU members who work at other plants are now often standing by the entrances to the warehouse, holding signs urging a “yes” vote and answering questions. The union also has a tent by a nearby gas station where workers can stop in to learn more about the union.

A Feb. 6 solidarity rally held near the distribution center drew some 100 workers, RWDSU officials and members of area unions, including the United Steelworkers, Teamsters, Communications Workers of America, United Mine Workers, United Auto Workers, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, as well as supporters from Atlanta, Louisville and elsewhere.

“We think it’s very important to build solidarity with the organizing drive at Amazon,” Carl White, UMW Local 2397 president, told the Militant. “Miners are very aware of the union drive. Many of us have family and friends who work there.”

White has worked at Warrior Met no. 7 mine in Brookwood, Alabama, since he was 19 years old and attended the Feb. 6 rally.

A success for the union drive at Amazon will strengthen the labor movement in the whole region, he said. “In the ‘right-to-work’ South, we face harsher conditions, worse pay, fewer benefits.

“Our contract at Warrior Met expires April 1,” White said. Some 1,400 miners are covered by the UMW contract. “We’re in negotiations now and they’re not going well. We feel like they’re trying to push the union out.”

Meanwhile, Amazon is working overtime to try to convince or bully workers into voting “no.”

“Amazon is in my texts, they’re in our breakroom, and they’re even in the bathroom telling us to vote union no,” Darryl Richardson, a picker in the warehouse who backs the unionization effort, told The Hill Feb. 8. “It’s an insane level of propaganda, and all of it is very misleading.”