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Unions Rally in Support of Amazon Workers

From across the country, they came to Alabama to show support on the eve of a union vote

Brian Young's picture
Feb 08, 2021

On a soggy Saturday in Bessemer Alabama, union members from across the country converged on the small town for a solidarity rally in support of Amazon workers. Just two days later, on Monday February 8th, ballots were mailed out to nearly 5,800 workers at the warehouse, kicking off the first union election at the e-commerce giant since 2014.

A day before the rally the NLRB had rejected the final attempt by Amazon to stop the election. The company was asking the board to stop a mail vote and instead force the workers to take part in an in-person vote. This would have allowed the company to monitor who voted yes and put workers at a much higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

Although the workers are organizing with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) unions from across the union movement were there including members of Communications Workers of America Local 3902, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 136, the United Mine Workers of America, the Iron Workers Local 92, United Auto Workers Local 2083, and the American Federation of Teachers. Teamsters Local 25 in Boston even sent a member who drove a Local 25 branded truck to the rally and Senator Bernie Sanders got involved by sending pizzas. Later he tweeted:

“This could be the difference between Amazon being what it is, corporate greed, and a provider of working-class jobs,” Thomas Morrissey of Teamsters Local 25, who came down from Boston for the rally, told the American Prospect.

Amazon workers from other states joined the rally as well. “We can only be as good as how we treat our lowest-paid workers,” says Zach, an Amazon driver from Louisiana. According to the American Prospect, he lost his previous job due to the pandemic and has been on Amazon’s payroll since August of 2020. He earns $15.50 hourly and works an average of 30 hours a week.

UCOMM previously reported that the union driver at the Bessemer warehouse has scared the company so much that they are going all out to stop the workers from voting in the union, even going so far as to recalibrate the stop lights outside of the warehouse so union organizers have less time to talk to workers sitting at a red light. One of the reasons is they fear if workers in the deep south can organize it is only a matter of time before warehouses in places like New York or California go union.

While Alabama might seem like an interesting choice for the first organizing campaign at Amazon, speakers at the rally reminded everyone that Bessemer is a union town. “This is a union town,” said RWDSU’s leading campaign organizer Joshua Brewer of Bessemer, located just outside of Birmingham, Alabama’s biggest city. “It’s long been a union town. It’s gonna continue to be a union town.” Alabama has one of the highest union density rates in the South at 8%.

Bessemer spent much of the late 19th and 20th centuries as a major ore mining, iron smelting, and iron manufacturing town. A strike in the 1930s against steel companies in the area allowed the workers to form one of the first multiracial unions in the deep south. Their efforts served as an inspiration for future generations of organizers in Alabama who organized around civil rights, an issue that RWDSU organizers have stressed to the Amazon workers.

“We see it as much of a civil-rights battle as a labor battle,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum told Bloomberg. “The overwhelming majority, perhaps, greater than 85% of the workers at this facility are African American. And their major concern seems to be that they’re not treated with respect.”

You can watch coverage of the rally below from our Labor Radio Podcast Network partner, The Valley Labor Report, and an interview with some of the workers by clicking here.

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