Players from the National Football Confederation were among the first to voice their support. Then came Stacey Abrams, the Democrat star who helped turn Georgia blue in the 2020 election. Actor Danny Glover went to Bessemer, Ala., To attend a press conference last week. where he appealed to the support of Father Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in urging workers at the Amazon warehouse there to hold. Tina Fey considered it, and so did Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Then, on Sunday, President Biden issued a resounding statement about solidarity with workers who are now voting on whether to form a union at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse, without issue. mention the company name. Posted to his official Twitter account, his video is one of the most powerful statements in favor of a US president’s reunification in recent memory.
“Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join the union,” Biden said.
In recent days, a consolidation campaign that had been purposely in sight for months has turned into an all-star scramble to influence workers. One side is the Retail, wholesale and department store Alliance and many allies support its labor in the political, sporting and Hollywood worlds. One of the world’s dominant companies, on the other hand, a giant e-commerce company has thwarted previous attempts to consolidate at US facilities over its 25-year history.
Attention is turning this union’s vote into a referendum not only on the working conditions at the Bessemer warehouse, where the 5,800 is used, but also on the plight of low-paid employees and workers. skin color in particular. Many of the employees in the Alabama warehouse were black, a fact union organizers emphasized during their campaign to seek to link the vote with the struggle for civil rights in the South. .
The Retail Workers Coalition has a long history of organizing black workers in the poultry and food industries, giving them basic benefits such as paid vacation time, safety protection. and a means of economic security. Trade unions are portraying its efforts in Bessemer as part of that legacy.
Benjamin Sachs, professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School, said: “This is an organized campaign in the South appropriate during a pandemic hit at one of the largest companies in the world. . “You can’t overstate the importance of an alliance victory there.”
Warehouse workers began voting by mail on February 8 and the ballots are due later this month. A union can form if a majority of votes support such a move.
Amazon’s protest campaign, both inside the warehouse and on the national level, goes into pure economics: that its starting salary is $ 15 an hour, plus benefits. This is much higher than the competition in Alabama, where the minimum wage is $ 7.25 an hour.
“It’s important for employees to understand the truth of union membership,” said Heather Knox, an Amazon spokesman. “We will provide education about that and the electoral process so they can make an informed decision. If the union’s vote passes, it will impact everyone at the site and key associates who understand what that means for them and their daily lives doing. work at Amazon. “The company, which went through a huge hiring run last year when domestic customers brought its sales to a record $ 386 billion, recording profits of more than $ 22 billion.
In Alabama, some workers are increasingly tired of the process. An employee recently posted on Facebook: “This union job worries me. Until March 30 !!! “
The situation is becoming tougher as union leaders accuse Amazon of carrying out a series of “union sabotage” tactics.
The company has hung signs all over the warehouse, next to hand sanitizing stations and even in bathroom stalls. It sends regular texts and emails, pointing out problems with unions. It shows pictures of workers in Bessemer on the company’s in-house app telling you how much they love Amazon.
At some training sessions, the company representative pointed out the cost of the union fee. When some workers asked explicit questions during the meetings, Amazon representatives watched them at their workstations and highlighted the downside of the union, employees and organizers said. . Jennifer Bates, a union advocate at the warehouse, said meetings stopped after voting began, but signs remain.
In this electrically charged atmosphere, even ordinary things become suspicious. Unions have raised questions about the timing of traffic lights near the warehouse, where labor organizers try to talk to workers when they are stopped when they leave the facility.
Amazon asked county officials in mid-December to change the lighting times, though there is no evidence in county records that the change was made to hinder the alliance. “Traffic for Amazon is assisting around change of change,” public records say the county’s reason for the light change.
Amazon routinely navigates traffic concerns around its facilities, and wasting unpaid time in congested parking lots is a routine of Amazon employees in Facebook groups.
But the president of the retail workers union, Stuart Appelbaum, questioned the timing of the requirement at Bessemer, to come as it did at the height of the organization. “When the light is red, we can answer questions and have a short conversation with the workers,” he said.
Last week, the union questioned an offer the company made to its warehouse workers in Alabama that would pay them at least $ 1,000 if they quit at the end of March. Mr. Appelbaum accused the company of trying to get employees to leave before the vote ended.
“They are trying to remove union supporters from their workforce by bribing them to leave and vote,” he said in an interview.
But the “Coupon”, as it is known among employees, is just as Amazon has it out to workers at all of its warehouses across the country. This is an annual program that allows the company to reduce the number of employees after the holiday peak shopping season without being fired. It has been in use since at least 2014, when Jeff Bezos wrote about it in a shareholder letter.
“Once a year, we offer to pay our associates to quit,” Mr. Bezos said at the time. “In the long run, an employee who stays somewhere they don’t want is not good for the health of the employee or the company.”
Mr. Appelbaum was not swayed. He says that he believes Amazon has chosen to offer on all of its warehouses when they do so to help eliminate possible “yes” votes in Bessemer.
President Biden stopped urging Amazon workers to unite, but his statement immediately raised the stakes of an already crucial campaign.
“Let me be really clear,” said Mr. Biden. “I don’t decide if anyone should join the union or not. But let me be clear: Deciding that doesn’t depend on the employer. The choice of union membership is up to the employee. Dots.”
“Workers in Alabama and across the US are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace,” he added. This is extremely important – an extremely important choice. And that’s one, he said, that should be done without being intimidated or intimidated.
Mr. Appelbaum said, despite the trade union’s suspicions, they have not filed any formal complaints with the National Labor Relations Commission. Usually, unions can oppose a company’s tactic before an election and a labor board can participate.
If the complaint is filed, the labor council is likely to determine that the election was invalid due to Amazon’s action. But after months of work to build support inside and outside of Amazon’s warehouse, the last thing the union wanted was for the labor board to intervene and stipulate that the election had to be reorganized. The voting has been going on in Bessemer for almost a month.
Sachs, Harvard Law School, said that despite Biden’s advice about companies interfering in the election, the current labor law allows Amazon to hold some mandatory meetings with workers to discuss. argue why they should not be incorporated and allow companies to post anti-union messages around the workplace.
“It’s very helpful for the president to come up with these tactics, but what we need is a new labor law to stop companies from interfering,” he said.
It is very rare that such a large union election can be held by post. In response to Amazon’s protests, the labor council requested a mail-in vote after it determined that federal election overseers would risk signing Covid-19 if they had to go to Bessemer to direct voting monitoring.
By pushing back strongly against the alliance, Amazon risks angering Democrats in Washington, many of whom have called for more antitrust scrutiny of major tech companies, Their businesses grew even bigger during the pandemic. Amazon ran a public campaign in favor of the law to increase the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour, buying featured ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications.
In his video on Sunday, President Biden specifically mentioned how unions can help “black and brown workers” and vulnerable workers in difficulty. economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
Ms. Bates, 48, one of the union’s leaders, started working at the Bessemer warehouse in May.
She said she felt outraged by some of Amazon’s anti-union efforts, especially the company’s claims to employees that they would pay close to $ 500 in union fees per year. Because Alabama is a work rights state, there is no such requirement that a union member must pay the dues.
“It makes me a little angry because I feel like they know the truth but they won’t tell the truth and are taking advantage of it because they know the staff is from a low-income, black community,” Who is Black, said Miss Bates. “The feeling is really horrible when you stand there and deliberately deceive people. Give them the truth and let them decide ”.