Amazon workers have been working on creating a union for their warehouse located in Bessemer, Alabama over the last few months and the movement has since gained national attention.
Since February 8 and until March 29, the 5,800 employees at that warehouse will have the opportunity to vote to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). If the vote passes, the Bessemer employees will form the first union of any Amazon facility in the United States. It will also become a game-changer in the corporate world, as well as at Amazon.
The Bessemer warehouse only opened in March of last year but over the summer, workers contacted an organizer at the RWDSU, saying that they had enough of the way the company tracked their productivity.
RWDSU President Stuart Applebaum told NPR that the workers described grueling productivity quotas and wanted more say on workplace policies; this includes how people at Amazon work, disciplinary actions, what happens at termination.
By December, those workers received signed cards from more than half of the Bessemer warehouse staff, stating that they want a union shop.
On the other hand, attempts from Amazon to try and delay the voting have failed, as well as the company’s attempts to have the voting take place in person. The National Labor Relations Board said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, voting will take place via mailing in.
Heather Knox, an Amazon representative, said that the company offers everything that unions already request for employees: industry-leading pay with a $15/hour starting wage, comprehensive benefits, opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern work environment.
“It’s important that employees understand the facts of joining a union and the election process, she said. “We will provide education about that and the election process so they can make an informed decision.”
“If the union vote passes, it will impact everyone at the site and it’s important associates understand what that means for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon.”
Knox also said that the workers fighting for a union do not represent all of the workers at the Bessemer warehouse.
“Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire,” she said. “We encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.”
Support From Across The Country
On Sunday, President Joe Biden showed support for the Amazon workers in Bessemer, although he did not directly state the name of the company.
In a Twitter video posted to his @POTUS account, he called the voting “vitally important.” He also said that “every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union.”
Along with President Biden, the workers received support from the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), which is the union that represents more than 2,000 NFL players in the U.S. Additionally, Senator Bernie Sanders, politician Stacey Abrams, actress Tina Fey and actor Danny Glover have all voiced their support of the workers.
The Importance Of Unions
The current movement by the Bessemer Amazon workers brings up the discussion of why unions are important for employees.
Kimberly Wilson, Director of the Labor Education Center at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, worked in the labor movement for nearly 30 years. She believes that unions help create democracy at work and a much needed voice for employees in the workplace.
In regards to Amazon, Wilson feels that it is only fair that the workers have a negotiated say in their work life, increased wages and better conditions at work, especially in health and safety.
“If Amazon workers across the country unionized, it would have great impact on their jobs. Amazon can afford to pay better wages and provide better working conditions but they won’t unless workers come together and collectively bargain for it,” she said. “The more Amazon facilities that are unionized will raise up pressure on the company to make things better for its workers. A testament to the fear of the company to share power can be seen in how hard the company is fighting unionization.”
Richard Kilgore, Associate Professor of Management and Business Administration at Maryville University, said that the interesting aspect of this unionization effort is that it centers around “respect” more than it does “compensation.”
“This case is an important test case for Amazon warehouse workers nationwide as only European Amazon workers have successfully formed local unions to date,” he said. “As one of the top employers of warehouse workers in the U.S., the outcome in Bessemer is being watched by many on both sides of the unionization question … if a union is formed at the Bessemer facility, the conversations about unionization will begin among workers at the other 100+ fulfillment centers throughout the U.S. and other global locations.”