Count begins in vote for a union at Amazon in Alabama

By Susan Lamont
April 12, 2021

ATLANTA — “I feel like everybody is watching us and we’re really making a difference and making a change when it comes to everybody sticking together and standing together,” Darryl Richardson, an outspoken supporter of the fight to win union recognition for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union at Amazon’s giant fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, said on National Public Radio March 28.

Richardson was the first worker at the Bessemer facility to contact the RWDSU last year after the warehouse opened. He was soon joined by others who agreed that they needed to come together and get organized as a union, to fight to defend themselves from boss harassment and for higher wages and more humane working conditions. Like some other workers at Amazon, Richardson had years of experience as an active union member before getting hired at Amazon.

Over the fall, hundreds of the nearly 6,000 workers signed union-recognition cards, forcing the National Labor Relations Board to authorize a union election. Conducted by the NLRB, the mail-in vote ended March 29 in one of the largest U.S. union elections in decades.

Amazon is among the biggest U.S. employers and its profits and workforce have mushroomed during the COVID pandemic. Owner Jeff Bezos is one of the richest men in the world. The company has been on a concerted anti-union drive aimed at intimidating workers into voting “no.” They’ve forced workers to attend special anti-union meetings, posted “vote no” flyers in bathroom stalls and brought in managers from other warehouses to stop workers in the hallway to tell them how to vote.

“When I talk to employees who don’t understand about the union,” Richardson told NPR, “I say any company that fights so hard to keep [the union] out, it’s got to be benefiting us.”

The organizing effort is being closely watched by workers around the country as it has received extensive media coverage. Solidarity has been building during the last weeks of the union vote. Young people from around the country came into the RWDSU’s Birmingham office, volunteering to help with the union’s final push to win the largest “yes” vote possible.

The outcome of the election likely won’t be known right away. Both the RWDSU and Amazon will observe the ballot count and have seven days to file objections to any ballot. Reuters reported that at least 19 people received ballots and communications from Amazon urging them to vote, and vote “no,” even though they no longer work there.

Then the NLRB will review any appeal, and its decisions can also be appealed.

Support for organizing union grows

The RWDSU has received hundreds of inquiries from Amazon workers around the country wanting to learn more about how they can organize to get a union where they work.

“Conditions at Amazon, Walmart and many other companies, where workers face harsh, dangerous and degrading conditions and don’t make high enough wages to support their families, make it inevitable further organizing drives like the one in Bessemer will arise,” Sam Manuel, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Atlanta City Council president, told the Militant. Manuel and running mate Rachele Fruit, SWP candidate for Atlanta mayor, have been using their campaigns to win solidarity for the RWDSU union drive. Both have visited Bessemer to speak with Amazon workers and others in the area to express their support and to be better able to win support from others.

“Fights like the one in Bessemer help workers gain confidence in their own strength when they come together and draw the lessons needed to rebuild a class-struggle labor movement that can chart a road forward for working people,” said Manuel.