Between Feb 8, and March 29, approximately 6,000 Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, will begin voting by mail on whether to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale Department Store Workers Union (RWDSU). The harsh working conditions at Amazon warehouses, along with Amazon’s refusal to adopt measures that protect workers from COVID 19, have pushed Amazon and Whole Foods workers every- where to step up organizing and fighting back.
These predominantly Black workers who have in recent months formed the BAmazon Workers Union, are on the cusp of launching a history-changing workers organization against one of the biggest and most powerful transnational corporations in the world, and its super rich union busting owner, Jeff Bezos. In addition, these workers are standing up to the racist, anti-union laws that suppress labor across the South.
Solidarity from every corner of the labor and progressive movements is needed now to show the workers in Bessemer that they are not alone, that all eyes are on the historic struggle that they are leading. This is especially needed as Amazon ramps up their union-busting tactics.
The Southern Workers Assembly has issued a call for a National Day of Solidarity with Alabama Amazon Workers on Saturday, February 20. Actions are being planned across the South and the U.S. on that day at Amazon facilities (warehouses, distribution centers, Whole Foods, etc.).
On the Feb 11 episode of What Next, Slate.com reporter Mary Harris spoke with Washington Post reporter Jay Greene about what the workers want, how management is fighting back, and what this action—the first of its kind at Amazon in seven years—could mean for future unionization efforts at the company. The conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Mary Harris: What’s it like in one of these warehouses?
Jay Greene: Oh, it’s a hive of activity. They’re massive. At any given moment there are more than a thousand workers stowing items as they come into the warehouse, picking them as people’s orders come in, boxing them up, and putting them on trucks.
Mary Harris: And Amazon is tracking each employee, minute by minute, using these handheld computers workers use to compile their orders. It’s called “making rate,” right?
Jay Greene: If you don’t hit your rate, it can affect your ability to move up at the plant, at the warehouse. It can affect your pay, to some measure at least, how much you might get a raise or not. One of the complaints is honestly using the bathroom. A lot of workers will talk about how the bathrooms are far enough away that heeding the call of nature can actually eat into your productivity. And these workers are measured on their productivity.
Mary Harris: Walk me through the timeline here. In November, the workers notified the National Labor Relations Board that they wanted to move forward. Is that right?
Jay Greene: Yeah, that’s right.... In December, the NLRB heard the case. In January, it said the vote was going to begin on Feb. 8. The NLRB also decided that the vote was going to be a mail-in process, which is common now in the pandemic era, but prior to the pandemic was quite uncommon. And so that process now started on Monday, Feb. 8. It’s a seven-week process in which ballots will be sent to the 5,805 people who are part of the bargaining unit that the NLRB determined. And they have seven weeks to return those ballots.