The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union RWDSU/UFCW and the Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, received today UNI Global Union’s 2021 Freedom from Fear Award in recognition of their courage for launching BAmazon, the first large-scale unionization drive at an Amazon warehouse in the United States. Amazon’s campaign of coercion was so severe during the fall 2020 drive, that the U.S. National Labour Relations Board has recommended a rare re-run of their election.
“This award is not just for us, but it represents workers everywhere,” Isaiah Thomas, a Bessemer worker and RWDSU activist, said in a video acceptance. “When we set out to organize our union, we didn’t think we’d be kickstarting a movement. But only after a few weeks at the company, it became clear that we needed to come together for change. Too many workers get injured; too many workers leave in wheelchairs and ambulances; and too many have to take second jobs to make ends meet. It’s ridiculous.”
He continued, “We are incredibly humbled that our organizing drive has ignited a flame of new organizing and solidarity across the world. But unionizing Amazon is a marathon not a sprint, and our fight is just beginning.”
The massive—and still growing—levels of support for Amazon workers like Isaiah since the BAmazon drive launched is, in part, a backlash against Amazon’s anti-worker campaign, full of dirty tricks like anti-union propaganda and deceptive anti-union videos. The company has rolled out intimidating captive audience meetings, where a supervisor or a “union-avoidance consultant” pushes the boundaries of the law, and the truth.
Particularly brazen, the company also pushed for the installation of the mailbox for workers to submit their ballots. The box was reportedly under surveillance by the company and Amazon managers had keys to open it.
“The BAmazon campaign captured the world’s attention, fuelled our hopes and strengthened our determination,” said Christy Hoffman, UNI Global Union’s General Secretary. “As expected, Amazon ran a brutal anti-union campaign. It unleashed an army of paid union busters in its warehouse. But the fight is not over. This campaign has changed the way the world sees Amazon. It exposed the company’s abusive practices and united the movement to hold Amazon accountable like nothing has before.”
The excitement generated by the Bessemer workers campaign to join RWDSU prompted support and solidarity from athletes, movie stars, musicians, and even U.S. President Joe Biden. Unions across the United States—and across the world—also reported an uptick in worker interest in organizing.
The Freedom from Fear Awards are presented each year to individuals and organizations that have demonstrated commitment to union organizing and the promotion of workers’ rights and a world “free from fear.”
UNI Global Union represents more than 20 million workers from over 150 different countries in the fastest growing service sectors in the world. UNI and our affiliates in all regions are driven by the responsibility to ensure these jobs are decent and workers’ rights are protected, including the right to join a union and collective bargaining.