A group of graves in Columbus, Ohio, who just negotiated a 3 percent increase. The poultry factory processes chicken balls for McDonald’s. Cap’n Crunch workers in Iowa. Women’s shoes division at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Alliance isn’t the largest labor union in the United States, but it could be one of the most eclectic alliances. Its members, a total of about 100,000 workers, seem to reach every conceivable corner of the US economy, stretching from the cradle (they make Gerber’s children’s food) to the grave (the cemetery workers in Columbus).
And now it’s capable of breaking into Amazon, one of the most dominant companies in the world, since its inception having beaten every attempt to organize any part of its huge workforce. United States.
This month, a team of 5,800 workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., Voting whether to join RWDSU This is the first large-scale union vote in Amazon history and the decision Organizational workers’ intentions will make sense for the labor movement across the country, especially as retail giants like Amazon and Walmart have gained power – and more workers – in time. Translate.
Stuart Appelbaum, union president, said the Amazon campaign “is about the future of work and how people who are working will be treated in the new economy”.
For some labor activists, the union and its early success at the Bessemer warehouse represent the vanguard of modern organized campaigns. It’s straightforward with social issues and insights on social media – posting a TikTok video in favor of rapper Killer Mike and a confirmation tweet from the National Football League Players’ Association during the Super Bowl match.
“It’s a somewhat odd union,” said Joshua Freeman, professor emeritus of labor history at Queens College at City University of New York. “They keep changing over the years and are very creative in their tactics.”
The coalition is also racially, geographically and politically diverse. Founded during the heyday of New York City organized labor in 1937 – and perhaps best known for representing workers at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s – most of the Its members are currently working in the appropriate states, throughout the South and the Midwestern countryside.
While the union’s total membership has stalled over the past decade, the number of members at its South Central office, including Alabama, Tennessee, and Louisiana, has nearly doubled, to about 9,000 from 4,700 in the year. 2011, spurred on by active recruitment efforts in the poultry, warehouse and healthcare industries. More than half of the members across the country are workers of color.
At the Mid-South office, where the organization heads at Amazon, local officials initiate most of the meetings with a prayer, advocating for gun rights, and say about half of their members. support Donald J. Trump’s re-election effort. (Unlike the national coalition, which openly backs President Biden, the southern office does not give the endorsement of either candidate.)
“We are known as the church union,” said Randy Hadley, Mid-South Council president. “We put God first, family second and then our business.”
The wholesale and retail workers union is run nationwide by Mr. Appelbaum, a Harvard Law School graduate and former Democrat from Hartford, Conn., Who wrote about his identity as a Jewish, gay labor leader.
Since becoming union president in 1998, Mr. Appelbaum has created a niche by organizing workers from a variety of industries: airline workers, fashion store employees. Fast and a gardener at a cannabis grower. “When you buy a business, look for the affiliate label,” Mr. Appelbaum joked.
This strategy has helped the alliance continue to thrive, even as its core workforce in traditional retail stores continues to shrink as online shopping moves.
Trade unions often associate their organized campaigns with a broader struggle to promote the rights of vulnerable workers, such as predominantly gay and lesbian employees. gender and non-duals in New York sex toy stores and undocumented immigrants work in the city’s car wash.
After World War II, unions supporting black soldiers were suspended at Macy’s, where commissions were highest. “It has a history of being a militant crowd, belligerent, leftist,” Professor Freeman said.
Even the Alabama office, which leans to the right on some issues, has stood up to protect workers in ways that are not desirable locally.
Mr. Hadley said one of his greatest achievements was negotiating a paid vacation for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, at a Tyson poultry factory in Tennessee, There are a large number of working Somali immigrants.
Mr. Hadley, a former butcher, recalls: “We had Muslims in the facility, they said, ‘We looked at that day like Christmas,’ and I thought, ‘Who am I to judge? ‘. “I said, ‘Let’s do it.'”
Approved in 2008, a Muslim holiday in place of Labor Day is one of the paid holidays for which workers are allowed to work at the facility, and has been criticized by some as non-human. America.
Over the years, the alliance has faced a number of powerful enemies. In the 1960s, its Black organizers were threatened – one had even been shot in – while trying to register food industry employees across the South.
Johnny Whitaker, a former dairy worker who started unionizing in the 1970s, says he grew up in a white family in Hanceville, Ala., Didn’t have much money. However, he is still shocked by the working conditions and racism he witnessed when he started organizing at poultry factories many years ago.
Black workers were classified differently from whites and were paid much lower wages. Women are expected to engage in sexual acts with managers in exchange for more hours, he said. Many workers cannot read or write.
Despite the threats that they would lose their jobs if organized, thousands of poultry workers have joined RWDSU over the past three decades, even though the industry remains largely non-union.
When a small group of Amazon workers contacted the union at the end of August about their interest in running the Bessemer warehouse, Mr. Whitaker admitted, “there are a lot of doubts” internally about the idea.
RWDSU tried to create a facility to organize Amazon’s warehouses on Staten Island in 2019, but the effort failed when the company withdrew from its plans to build a second headquarters in New York, known as HQ2, partly because of the political pressure to allow the organization at its facilities.
“What we learned from HQ2 is that Amazon will do whatever it can to avoid being affiliated in any of its workplaces,” said Mr. Appelbaum.
At the time, Amazon said it canceled its plans after “a number of state and local politicians made it clear that they opposed our presence and would not work with them. I to build the kind of relationship needed to advance the project. “
But the more workers in Alabama continuously talking to the union about their working conditions, the more Mr. Appelbaum and others believe the warehouse is fertile ground for organization.
Workers describe the control Amazon exerts over their working lives, including tracking their time in the toilet or other time spent on their primary duties in the warehouse. Some workers reported that they could be fined for spending too much time on their particular job.
“We are talking about bathroom breaks,” said Mr. Whitaker, the union’s executive vice president. “It’s 2021 and workers are being fined for peeing.”
In an email, an Amazon spokesperson said the company did not penalize workers for bathroom breaks. “That’s not our policy,” she said. “Everyone can rest in the bathroom.”
The Bessemer campaign has produced some strange political ties. Mr. Biden expressed his support for Alabama workers to vote freely in the mail election, which ends later this month. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio went even further, encouraging Bessemer workers to unite to defend themselves against the “awakening culture” at Amazon.
If the union wins the Bessemer elections, the efforts of the court staff will continue. In the status of the right to work, workers do not have to pay union fees even if they are represented by a trade union.
At a Quaker Oats factory in Iowa, also an authorized state, RWDSU seeks to motivate workers to join the union by posting the names of workers who have not yet participated on bulletin boards.
“In the right working state, you’re always organized,” said Mr. Hadley.
Early in the afternoon of October 20, Mr. Hadley met with about 20 organizers before they arrived at the Bessemer warehouse to begin a worker registration campaign. The plan was for the organizers standing at the warehouse gate to talk to the workers early in the morning and evening as their shifts changed. In a conversation with the group, Mr. Hadley mentioned the story of David and Goliath.
“We’ll hit David in the nose every day, twice a day,” he told the group, referring to Amazon. “He’s going to see our union every morning when he goes to work, and I want him to think about us when he closes his eyes at night.”