Riding a global wave of solidarity, Amazon workers, trade unionists and community allies gathered last Saturday in Bessemer, Alabama to support the historic campaign to organize what it could be the first Amazon union in the United States.
“From Germany to Australia to Brazil the United Kingdom and even India – all over the world, the eyes are on Bessemer right now,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union who travelled to Bessemer to support the workers. “Workers everywhere know that the way Amazon treats its workers will define a future for working people. They know that if you can win a union in Bessemer Alabama, they can win too. They are cheering you on.”
For the second time in a year, over 6,000 workers in the fulfillment center will be voting on whether or not to form a union with RWDSU in the coming weeks. In the United States, a majority of voters must vote YES in order for a union to become recognized.
“It feels like we have to remove our emotions in order to get that job done because we have to meet the quota and the productivity rates that management has set upon us,” said Isaiah Thomas, an Amazon worker. “We have to meet those every step of the way instead of actually working together to get the job done and caring about for one another.”
According to the workers, the company is running round the clock captive audience meetings and deploying anti-union consultants to persuade the workers to vote NO, but the workers are not buying it. “It’s our time, not just here in Alabama, in the city of Bessemer, in all of the United States,” said Jennifer Bates who works at the Bessemer fulfilment centre and has been an early supporter of the campaign. It’s time for us to take a stand and it’s time for us to speak out for unfair wages, unfair dignity.”
Standing not far from the stage were members of the United Mine Workers of America, which is currently engaged in a strike almost 11 months old in nearby Tuscaloosa County. “I’m a mine worker who has been on strike at Warrior Met and I’m an employee at BHM1. All we want is dignity and respect for the workforce. We deserve a safe workplace and to be fairly compensated for our labor.” said Braxton.
Other speakers included Liz Shuler, the President of the AFL-CIO, the Presidents of the Alabama State Labour Council, a bus load of trade unionists from neighboring Georgia, Stuart Appelbaum, the President of the RWDSU and Ruben Cortina, President UNI Global Union.
“You have captured the attention of not just the country but the world,” Shuler said. “And something is happening in this country. Do you feel it? Working people are standing up across this country. They’ve sacrificed during this pandemic, they’ve worked overtime, they’ve been called essential but treated as dispensable.”
RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum compared Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to “some spoiled space cowboy on a joyride” for his highly publicized rocket trips. “Only by coming together do working people have the strength to make their jobs better, their lives more secure and their future brighter,” he said. “Amazon knows this, and that’s why they are fighting so hard to stop it.”
Just last week, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) filed Unfair Labour Practice charges (ULPs) against Amazon claiming that it has engaged in misconduct during the re-run union election in Bessemer, Alabama. This is the second set of ULP charges by the Union, showing a continuance of the company’s conduct aimed at interfering with the right of employees to organize. This rerun election is the result of the company’s objectionable conduct under the National Labour Relations Act (NLRA) during the first election, conduct which the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) concluded interfered with employees’ rights to a free and fair election. All the charges highlight examples of Amazon’s continued efforts to undermine and suppress workers’ right to a free and fair election. Despite the adversity, workers of the BAmazon Union continue to fight to ensure their democratic rights at work are respected and Amazon is held accountable for its outrageous behaviour.
“I come from Argentina and I speak on behalf of my brothers and sisters from around Latin America, I can tell you now, everyone knows where Bessemer, Alabama is because of BAmazon workers,” said Ruben Cortina, UNI Global Union President.