Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Amazon union drive has got hold of unlikelier

Largest, most viable effort Unionize amazon Many years did not start in a union stronghold like New York or Michigan last summer, but at a Fairfield Inn outside Birmingham, right-to-work state Alabama.

It was late summer and a group of employees from a nearby Amazon warehouse contacted an organizer of retail, wholesale and a department store union. They were fed up, he said, of the way the online retailer tracked their productivity, and wanted to discuss unionizing.

As soon as the activists arrived at the hotel, union officials inspected the parking lot to ensure that they were not followed.

Since that secret meeting, Bessemer, Ala. The Sangh’s campaigns at Amazon’s fulfillment center in India have moved ahead faster than anyone else expected. By the end of December, more than 2,000 activists had signed the card, indicating they wanted the election. The National Labor Relations Board had then determined that there was a “substantial” interest in a union election among the warehouse’s nearly 5,800 workers, which is an important bar to hit with a government agency overseeing the voting process. About a week ago, A. Board announced Voting by mail will begin next month and continue through the end of March.

Just having elections is an achievement for the unions, which failed in Amazon for years. But actually persuading the activists to vote for the Sangh is a big challenge. The company has begun to mobilize efforts by arguing that a union will saddle workers with arrears without guaranteeing higher wages or better benefits.

This will be the first union election in the United States to involve a company since a small group of technical workers at a warehouse in Delaware Against forming a union in 2014.

A lot has changed since the voting seven years ago, which allows organized labor to encroach with Amazon employees in a place like Alabama. Much of the change took place in the past year during the epidemic, as employees from meatpacking plants to grocery stores have often talked about the lack of protective gear or insufficient pay through their unions.

The retail union has represented workers as a selling point in Bessemer during the epidemic, representing its success.

“The epidemic changed the way many people feel about their employers,” said retail union president Stuart Appelbaum. “Many activists get the benefit of being a collective voice.”

The union organizers are also building their campaigns around the themes of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many of the employees at Amazon’s warehouse are Black, a fact that the retail union has focused on on issues of ethnic equality and empowerment. And leading the organizing efforts are about two dozen union workers from nearby warehouses and poultry plants, most of whom are also Blacks.

Since October 20, poultry workers have stood outside the Amazon Gate every day at 4:30 am, urging employees to join the union at a traffic light.

“I’m telling them they are part of a worldwide movement,” said Michael Foster, a black organizer in Bessemer, who works at a poultry plant. “I want them to know that we matter and we matter.”

This year unions are forming in other unexpected places. This month, more than 400 engineers and other workers On google Formed a union, a rare step in the mostly anti-union tech industry. The Google union is primarily to increase employee activism, while the proposed union on Amazon in Bessemer will eventually be able to negotiate a contract and try to influence wages and working conditions.

Amazon, which has started on a To vie During the epidemic, it now has more than 1.2 million workers globally, up more than 50 percent from a year earlier. But the company has also started to face it Pressure from its corporate employees, On climate change and other issues, and from many warehouse employees across the country who have felt that they have started speaking. It is likely to focus on increasing momentum with Amazon to surpass Walmart as the nation’s largest private employer in just a few years.

The success at the Bessemer warehouse, which opened in March, could inspire workers in the fast-growing e-commerce industry, said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “If you can do it in Alabama, we can do it in Southern California for sure,” he said. “It will have a huge ripple effect.”

Amazon spokesman Heather Knox said in a statement, the company did not believe the union “represents the majority of our employees’ views.” He added, “Our employees choose to work on Amazon because we provide some of the best jobs available everywhere, and we offer anyone with similar jobs to any other company our total compensation package, health benefits and workplace benefits.” Encourage you to compare the atmosphere. “

The company created a website stating that the union’s dues – which could be about $ 9.25 per week for a full-time employee – would leave workers with less money to pay for school supplies.

“Why not save money and get books, gifts and things you want?” The website says.

One initial version The website included photographs of happy-looking young workers, including an image of a black man leaping into the air that appeared from a free stock photo website. The site featured a man and a woman in an image the label “Excited African-American Couple Jumping, Having Fun.”

When asked about the site, Amazon called it “educational” and said it “helps employees understand the facts of joining a union.” (As of last Tuesday evening, the company had Share photos deleted Including that leaping man.)

Race has often been at the center of the composition of campaigns in the South. A century ago, the multinational Steel and Coal Miners Association around Birmingham was a “Laborpit of Labor Militancy”, Mr Lichtenstein said.

In the 1960s, unions, including retail, wholesale and department store unions, gave black workers a place to claim their civil rights and to achieve greater equality in the workplace.

Organizing was a dangerous job. A black organizer with the retail association in Alabama was named Henry Jenkins Being shot on miss And is receiving death threats at her home. At one time, a bomb was found in his car outside a church in Selma. Mr. Jenkins died in 2011 after an illness.

The retail union has been influential in the Northeast, where it represents workers from Messi and Bloomingdale’s. But its strength has also increased in the South, particularly in poultry, an industry with traditionally dangerous jobs and a workforce with many Black employees.

This spring, the association was active in making public the outbreak of the deadly virus in poultry plants. Randy Headley, president of the union’s Mid-South Council, called the industry “passive inaction” to provide basic protection for workers.

Encouraged by its rising profile during the epidemic, the union trained a group of workers to begin organizing additional poultry facilities in the South. When Amazon employees reached out, the union, which had failed to gain traction An Amazon warehouse in Staten Island Two years ago, Bessemer decided to redirect poultry workers to the warehouse. Unlike previous campaigns, the union decided it would remain mostly quiet during the Alabama organizing campaign.

“Some people don’t expect us to succeed,” said Josh Brewer, who is leading the event effort. “I believe we can do this.”

On the evening of 20 October, two dozen poultry and warehouse workers showed up outside the Amazon gates.

The Mona Derby, which has spent the past 33 years processing chickens, immediately began approaching Amazon workers in their cars, as if they lived in the house. Ms. Derby was one of 18 children raised in Alabama. She started working as a housekeeper for local doctors and lawyers when she was 15. But she wanted more stable work, health care and retirement benefits, so she got a job at a chicken plant .

Today, the starting wages in Alabama’s poultry plants are similar to those in the Amazon. (The average hourly wage at the Bessemer warehouse is $ 15.30.) But Ms. Derby said the union provided her with security and job security that other jobs lack.

“You can pay me $ 25 an hour, but if you don’t treat me well, what is that money worth?” he said.

On the first evening at the Bessemer warehouse, Ms. Derby said, a white person contacted her and said that Amazon doesn’t want a union and that she doesn’t want “a black ass on our property.”

Ms. Derby said that you are going to see my black ass here all day, every day.

Ms. Derby said that she had seen the man remove his name badge before walking on top of him. He told a police officer what the man had said, but the officer did not take notes.

Bessemer police said they have no record of the incident. Amazon declined to comment.

On December 18, Amazon and union attorneys gathered on Zoom to discuss how many employees would likely be part of the union.

The hearing dragged on for days, as Amazon’s lawyer asked minute detail questions about the warehouse, until a federal hearing officer eventually cut the testimony.

One issue Amazon has emphasized is that the election be held in-person at the warehouse. The company offered to rent hotel rooms to track the federal election to help them contract the virus in an area with an infection rate of 17 percent. The National Labor Relations Board ruled against in-person voting on 15 January, stating that a company paying hotel rooms for government employees is not a good idea. On Friday, Amazon asked to stay for the mail-in election, arguing that the transition rate was declining, and insisted that voting should be in the warehouse.

Until all votes are cast, Mr. Foster and other poultry and warehouse workers plan to stay outside the Amazon gates. He said some Amazon workers were afraid to be seen talking to the organizers at the stoplight.

On some occasions, Mr. Foster has said to pray with the workers before the light turns green.

“We want to show them we’re not leaving them until this is done,” he said.

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