BESSEMER, Ala. — In the final week of the vote over union representation at the giant Amazon fulfillment center here, solidarity with those fighting for a “yes” vote has picked up. The voting, conducted by mail-in ballot by the National Labor Relations Board, ends March 29.
Volunteers from throughout the country have been stopping by the office of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to help with phone banking, canvassing throughout the area, placing pro-union signs on supporters’ lawns, producing videos, and texting and talking to workers about how a union can help workers there.
Like all Amazon workers and millions of others across the country, they face dehumanizing production quotas, company surveillance, arbitrary discipline and firings, and the bosses’ disdain for safety on the job. Amazon warehouses have an injury rate of four serious injuries per 100 workers.
“My workday feels like a nine-hour intense workout every day. And they track our every move,” Amazon worker Jennifer Bates told the U.S. Senate Budget Committee March 17. She said that with union representation workers could fight for adequate break times, higher wages and protection against victimization by the bosses.
From the outset, the Amazon bosses have been on a no-holds-barred campaign to pressure workers to vote “no.”
The BAmazonUnion.org website carries news about the drive and about support from unions, politicians and others. Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, visited here March 17 to bring solidarity. “People are sick and tired of disrespect at work and having to work more than one job to survive,” she said.
The National Football League Players Association, Major League Baseball Players Association, and union officials from Peru, Japan, Ethiopia and elsewhere have issued statements of support. And 1,760 members of the Writers Guild of America have signed a petition supporting the organizing drive. Union poultry workers in Alabama — also organized by the RWDSU — have been standing at entrances to the warehouse to explain what they’ve gained by having a union and encourage workers to vote “yes.”
“We are so appreciative of all the support we have received from unionists and others,” Joshua Brewer, RWDSU director of organizing, told this worker-correspondent and Socialist Workers Party mayoral candidates Malcolm Jarrett from Pittsburgh and Rachele Fruit from Atlanta when we visited the union hall March 20 as part of a solidarity trip to the area. “It took a giant like Amazon to have all hands on deck, for us all to come together,” Brewer said.
Jarrett delivered letters of support he had gathered from Pittsburgh-area union officials — from Local 400 of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers; Local 610 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America; Teamsters Local 249, which represents sanitation workers who are currently in a contract fight; as well as signatures from some two dozen Pittsburgh-area Walmart workers, including from the store where he works. “You are setting an example for the rest of the working class in the fight for a more democratic and humane world for all working people around the country,” wrote Antwon Gibson, president of United Electrical Workers Local 610.
“SWP candidates use our campaigns to build solidarity with labor battles,” Jarrett told Brewer. “This battle to win a union at Amazon deserves the support of all working people.”
“We need a union — we need one real bad,” Darray Owens, 25, told Jarrett when he knocked on his door in nearby Hueytown. He has worked at the Dollar General warehouse for four years and is wholeheartedly in support of the Amazon workers’ drive to win a union. “It’s just chaos where I work,” he said. “They time you on everything. We had to work six and seven days a week over the last year. I hope they vote for the union.”
Unions make a difference
Antoinette Billingsley, a 31-year-old former autoworker, said the work at her nonunion plant was “cut throat — a union can protect the employees. You have to stand for something and fight for a better life for your children.”
Fruit said the SWP campaign explains how workers need to fight to wrest control of production out of the hands of the bosses. “This is the only way to enforce safety and health on the job,” she said.
Not everyone we met backs the union-organizing drive, but most did. At a nearby trailer park, Fruit asked 65-year-old grocery store retiree Delores Hardisey what she thought of the Amazon union drive. “I’m all for it,” she said. “It’s the only way you make any money and get decent benefits.” Hardisey said she was a proud member of United Food and Commercial Workers union at the A&P where she had worked.
There is a long tradition of union struggles in this area, especially in the coal mines and steel mills. Many workers have family that have been part of fights in these places.
At the union hall, Brewer said that the RWDSU has received inquiries from Amazon workers in other cities about getting a union. “When this is over we will pull up our signs, and bring them somewhere else to the next fight,” he said.
“The ballot counting will be live-streamed so workers can watch it online,” he added. “Some 5,800 workers are eligible to vote and the counting will take several days.” Messages of support can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.