Almost 6,000 Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama are voting to be the first in the nation to unionize Amazon. Finally, the results of the vote will be announced on March 30 on whether they will join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Bessemer is one of the poorest towns in Alabama with 80% of the workers Black.
With unions dwindling in conservative, anti-union Alabama, it will be an uphill battle for Amazon workers to unionize. Only 8% of the state’s workers were union members in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Amazon employees at the Bessemer plant are bombarded with anti-union messages even in the bathroom. They receive up to 5 anti-union text messages daily and are required to attend meetings where they are told they will lose benefits if they join the union, but that is misinformation.
Amazon has an anti-union website called DoItWithoutDues.com that says, “Why pay $500 in dues, we have you covered.” It encourages workers to use that $500 for other things that they need or want.
Yes, the wages and benefits are good with Amazon, especially for Alabama, but that does not mean there are no problems.
The Bessemer Amazon plant is huge, the size of sixteen football fields, and it is four-floors high without elevators for workers to use. The elevators are only for products to move up and down the floors. It is exhausting for workers to climb up and down all those stairs or walk the huge plant just to do their work.
Workers complain they are treated more like robots than humans. They are given short bathroom breaks with long walks to the bathroom that are clocked against them as non-productive time. The work is very fast-paced and time away for going to the bathroom or to get a drink of water eats up precious break time. This may cause workers to fall behind on their production quotas and this can lead to termination.
Workers have to produce a quota and if they don’t meet their quota they are fired. The company has an automated tracking system with video monitors and cameras everywhere to track every second workers are not working. It is called Time Off Task or TOT and if an employee has too much TOT they are fired.
“We had a worker who came to work and his entry pass was deactivated and instead of Human Resources coming to explain, they sent Asset Protection and told him they would be in touch in 24 hours. He was trying to ask questions as to why [his pass was deactivated] when Bessemer police showed up and arrested him. He was arrested for trying to go to work,” Eric Richardson, President of the Metro Atlanta Chapter of Black Trade Unions, told the Streets of Atlanta.
“Jeff Bezos’s business model for Amazon was feasting on public subsidies, paying little or no taxes, and dehumanizing and mistreating his employees,” Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU President, said in a statement reported in Business Insider.
Jennifer Bates works at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. Here are a few quotes from her testimony to the U.S. Senate Budget Committee Hearing on the Income Inequality Crisis in America.
“Amazon brags it pays workers above the minimum wage. What they don’t tell you is what those jobs are really like. And they certainly don’t tell you that they can afford to do much better for their workers.
The shifts are long. The pace is super-fast. You are constantly being watched and monitored. You are on your feet walking all the time and climbing 4 flights of stairs to get to your station and move products. We have two 30-minute breaks during a 10-hour shift. They seem to think you are just another machine.
And then there’s the issue of job security – people are concerned about people getting fired for no real reason and not being given the opportunity to speak to anybody at Amazon about it. They deny us good working conditions and claim we should be happy with what we have, and then go around spending millions to tell us we don’t need a union,” Bates testified.
At that Senate hearing, Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, asked, “Mr. Bezos, you are worth $182 billion, so why are you aggressively trying to stop your workers in Bessemer, Alabama, from joining a union to negotiate for better benefits and working conditions? We need to make it easier, not harder, for workers to join unions. The massive increase in wealth inequality can be directly linked to the decline in union membership.”
Bezos was unable to testify at the hearing.
Across the country and the world, supporters of the workers in Bessemer came out on March 20th for International Day of Solidarity with Alabama Amazon Worker and Against Union Busting to tell Bezos to stop union-busting and that we support Amazon workers to vote yes for a union.
Twenty-five states from Alabama to Wisconsin, and over 50 cities, and several countries held marches and actions in support of Alabama Amazon Worker’s fight to unionize on March 20th.
In East Point, Georgia about 50 people gathered for a noon rally in support of the Alabama Amazon workers at the intersection of North Commerce and Camp Creek Parkway about a mile from an Amazon Warehouse at 4200 North Commerce Drive.
This rally was initiated by ATL Amazon Workers Solidarity Network, Atlanta North Georgia Labor Council, and Atlanta Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
‘Unions make sure companies don’t grab all the profits and leave the workers with nothing. Unions focus on the representation of the workforce… for collective bargaining to get affordable health benefits, living wages, and safe working conditions… Unions are the voice of the people and that is why we need unions, and why we stand behind the unionization of Amazon workers,” David Ward, Financial SecretaryTreasurer with the Amalgamated Transit Union serving Fulton, Cobb, and Gwinnett Counties, told the Streets of Atlanta.
If Alabama Amazon workers vote for a union, it will put a crack in the union-hating South and open up other Amazon warehouses to become unionized.
Videos of rallies in support of Alabama Amazon workers courtesy of Judy Conder’s Georgia Grassroots Video.
https://youtu.be/PPeiVqHljjQ East Point Rally March 20
https://youtu.be/sqyKL616Eos Atlanta Rally February 20