Image courtesy of fastcompany.com
By Brendan Eagen
The small town of Bessemer, Alabama, just outside of Birmingham, has garnered national attention in recent weeks as just over 5,800 workers at the town’s Amazon Fulfillment Center have chosen to vote on whether or not to unionize. The results of the vote, held on monday March, 29, may take longer than a week to be known. A successful union vote would be a huge victory for labor movements across the country, especially as it comes against one of the most powerful companies in the world, Amazon, who has fought hard against unionization efforts
While Amazon’s main argument against the union is that they already pay $15/hr to every single one of their employees, union organizers say that a union provides benefits beyond potential pay raises. One of the major focuses has been working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses, where strict productivity quotas allow the online retail giant to deliver goods at its famous breakneck speeds. While this efficiency is good for customers and has made Amazon very profitable, it means that workers are closely monitored for the entirety of their 10 hour shifts, and can be punished for things like taking too long in the bathroom. Additionally, the huge productivity demand leads to injuries, for which, at least in some cases, Amazon refuses to provide compensation. And when productivity demands rise, wages do not follow. Furthermore, workers have spoken out against the company for what they say have been inadequate safety measures in warehouses throughout the pandemic.
Amazon has intensely campaigned against this effort, as it has against past unionization efforts. The company began holding mandatory meetings where workers would be informed of the dangers of unions and posting flyers around the warehouse which read “do it without dues”. While the meetings have since been forced to stop, these efforts are the latest in Amazon’s long history of crushing labor organization efforts. In May 2020, two white collar workers were fired for speaking out against warehouse work conditions and the company’s climate policy.
The struggle has garnered attention in Washington from Marco Rubio (R- FL) to Bernie Sanders (I-VT), with Bernie coming under fire from an Amazon’s CEO on Twitter. As Bernie prepared to visit the Bessimer warehouse in support of the organizers, Dave Clark, the current CEO of Amazon, backhandedly welcomed the Vermont senator as he bragged about the “progressive workplace” created by Amazon. When representative Mark Pocan (D-WI) chimed in, mentioning stories of workers being forced to urinate in bottles due to productivity demands, the official Amazon News twitter snapped back, denying those claims.
The push to unionize is extremely significant. The almost 6,000 employees who would gain union representation from unionization winning the election would be the largest labor win in 20 years. The movement has already inspired thousands of other Amazon employees to inquire about unionizing and a victory could help to push that momentum further.