ATLANTA — In the midst of their seven-week-long mail-in vote on whether or not Amazon bosses have to allow workers to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, workers at the company’s Bessemer, Alabama, fulfillment center are getting support from fellow workers and union members. Some 5,800 workers are eligible to vote in the election, which ends March 29.
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RWDSU members from other workplaces, including a number of poultry processing plants, have come to Bessemer to stand at entrances to the warehouse and talk to workers about why they should vote “yes” and answer any questions they have.
Actor Danny Glover joined these workers at the plant Feb. 22 to show support for the union-organizing drive. Actress Tina Fey and over 1,760 television and film writers, members of the Writers Guild of America, have signed a petition supporting the organizing drive.
At the same time, the company is stepping up efforts to pressure workers not to back the union. They’re texting workers multiple times a day with anti-union messages, says Darryl Richardson, one of the Amazon workers who helped get the union drive off the ground. They’ve forced workers to attend mandatory “information” meetings where managers try to convince workers the union will be bad for them and their families. They even put anti-union posters in the bathroom stalls.
Richardson, who is 51 years old, used to work in an auto parts plant in the area, which was organized by the United Auto Workers union. The Birmingham-Bessemer area has a long history of union-organized coal mines, steel mills and other industries.
The auto parts plant closed and he decided to get a job at the warehouse. “I thought the opportunities for moving up would be better. I thought safety at the plant would be better,” he told the Guardian Feb. 23. “And when it comes to letting people go for no reason — job security — I thought it would be different.”
But, he said, he quickly learned that workers are fired regularly at Amazon for not meeting production quotas. That’s 315 items an hour for his job as a “picker.” Nearby video monitors tell him what to do minute by minute. “You’re running at a consistent, fast pace,” Richardson said. “You get treated like a number. You don’t get treated like a person. They work you like a robot.”
Injury rates at a fifth of Amazon warehouse facilities are at 10% or higher, with the industry average being four serious injuries per 100 workers.
So Richardson jumped in when the RWDSU began looking for people to help lead the organizing drive. They quickly got over 30% of the warehouse workers to sign up.
“We’re working for Amazon and one of the richest men in the world,” he said, referring to owner Jeff Bezos, who is worth around $190 billion.
The company propaganda says pay and benefits are great and the union would just take money from workers in dues. But, Richardson explains, “Amazon says they’re giving you great stuff that nobody else gives you, yet Amazon has big turnover.”
Amazon bosses attack the union
Warehouse bosses have put up a mailbox right in front of the fulfillment center for workers to cast their votes, and texted “instructions” to all workers, urging them to vote “no” and to do it by March 1.
Placement of the mailbox “creates all sorts of possibilities for intimidation,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum told the news website Al.com Feb. 24. People “understand Amazon’s ability to survey everything they do. Also they may feel compelled to show supervisors that they’re mailing at the facility. People are not sure whether or not Amazon will know how they voted because they know every other thing that goes on at their facility.”
The RWDSU also reports that Amazon workers in Bessemer got notice in late February that the company is making a $1,000 bonus offer for any worker who isn’t happy and wants to quit. This is aimed at getting workers who are angry over pay and conditions to leave, as opposed to fighting for the union. Amazon responded by claiming the program isn’t new, but they admit the idea is to give workers who don’t like working at Amazon an incentive to resign. The union has also accused the company of pressuring Jefferson County officials to alter the traffic lights near the fulfillment center to keep union members from talking to workers.
The union-organizing fight is important, and the workers deserve all the support they can get.