Photo: Bessemer Amazon workers rally. Liberation photo
Voting is now underway among the over 6,100 workers at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, in a re-do of last year’s union election. In March 2021, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union lost the initial vote in an election rife with intimidation and manipulation by Amazon. In December of last year, the National Labor Relations Board ordered a second election to be held on the grounds that Amazon “essentially hijacked” the election with its union-busting tactics.
The election will be mail-in like last year, with the ballots due on March 25 and vote counting beginning on March 28. During this period, organizers and workers will be going door to door to talk with workers and trying to challenge Amazon’s anti-union messaging. Since more people are vaccinated, organizers are now able to meet workers in person — a more desirable organizing tactic compared to phone calls and texts from the last election, and are hopeful that they will be more effective at countering Amazon’s anti-union campaign.
Last year, a major issue was Amazon illegally placing a ballot collection box in the parking lot of their facility, which made it appear to workers as though Amazon was conducting the election, and was cited by the NLRB in their decision to overturn the results. Instead of ordering the mailbox removed, as RWDSU organizers have demanded, it will be placed in a “neutral location” still on Amazon property — meaning workers will still be fearful of Amazon’s surveillance and intimidation. With the mailbox issue remaining, in addition to the Democrat-controlled Senate failing to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act that would strengthen existing weak labor laws, the organizing field is tilted in favor of the bosses.
Another challenge with this second election and with unionizing Amazon in general is the worker turnover. Although over half of the workers who voted a year ago are still working at the fulfillment center, there are many workers who have been exposed to Amazon’s daily propaganda framing the union in a negative and false light including through regular “captive audience” meetings where workers are called into mandatory meetings and told fear mongering lies about why unions are harmful.
Amazon has continued its rabid union-busting campaign that it carried out last year. From changing the traffic lights to sending anti-union texts to workers and posting flyers in the breakroom and the bathroom, to installing the mailbox on the company’s property and holding mandatory “captive audience” meetings, Amazon’s campaign to prevent workers from unionizing is relentless. Management’s tactics are intended to instill mistrust in the union by spreading misinformation about what a union is, and are an attempt to intimidate and repress workers from turning out to vote ‘yes’ in their union election. Yet, workers continue to push back against Amazon’s anti-union campaign in a number of ways, including speaking out during management’s “captive audience” meetings.
The struggle against this global giant of a company has mobilized activists across Alabama and the country to fight for the Bessemer workers and counter Amazon’s greed. Local community organizations, such as the Greater Birmingham Ministries, have joined in supporting the union campaign. The executive director Scott Douglas said, “Alabama has a long history of denying the rights of workers in order to attract corporations. We have to put a stop to this.” Union organizers from the AFL-CIO and United Food and Commercial Workers union are supporting RWDSU’s struggle for what could be the first unionized Amazon warehouse. They are joined by other organizations, such as Jobs with Justice, Jobs to Move America, United Students Against Sweatshops, and many others, who are volunteering to help get out the vote, amplify the Bessemer workers’ voices, and share messages of solidarity. Organizations canvassing and supporting have raised the ways that this union struggle is simultaneously a struggle against racism and sexism — 85% of the workers are Black and a majority of the workers are women.
Since last year’s election, there have been a number of high profile labor actions, such as the successful Volvo strike last September and an explosion in Starbucks workers filing for union elections across the country, which can serve as an example of the necessity of unions and embolden precarious workers to organize and fight for what’s theirs. This high-stakes union election in Bessemer is drawing national attention. It takes place alongside a number of campaigns to unionize Amazon. The International Brotherhood of the Teamsters are organizing Amazon workers, and an independent union Amazon Labor Union filed to unionize on Jan. 26 at the JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, as well as another Staten Island warehouse, LDJ5, on Feb. 2.
The union election in Alabama continues to expose the shamelessness of Amazon executives — typical of all capitalists — but at the same time it shows how fearful Amazon is of its workers building consciousness and collective power. The working class has always had to organize and fight to win any gains from the ruling class. It won’t be an easy battle against the largest internet company, online marketplace, AI assistant provider, cloud computing platform, and live-streaming service — which is also the second largest employer in the United States after Walmart. But no matter what, Amazon workers will continue to fight against this multi-billion dollar corporation’s brutal exploitation.