On Friday, some Democratic members of Congress and national labor leaders attempted to rally support for unionizing a major Amazon facility outside of Birmingham, drawing parallels between the Alabama workers’ organizing effort and the civil rights movement.
Approximately 6,000 employees at the sprawling distribution plant have been voting by mail since February and will continue until the end of March. It’s the biggest organizing drive in Amazon’s history, with a lot riding on it for the country’s second-largest employer, which has a history of smashing unionization attempts at its warehouses and Whole Foods grocery stores.
For Amazon and organized labor in general, the result is crucial.
If the Alabama campaign succeeds, it could cause a chain reaction in Amazon’s operations, with thousands of employees demanding fair working conditions and pursuing collective bargaining. It will also be beneficial to other labor markets in the traditionally anti-union South, as well as elsewhere.
Terri Sewell, whose Alabama congressional district includes the Bessemer facility, was joined by four House Democratic Caucus members to bring attention to the vote. The delegation’s visit comes just days before Selma, Alabama, commemorates Bloody Sunday and the 1965 Voting Rights March.
“These staff are carrying on a long tradition… of crusading against anything that is wrong,” Sewell said, echoing some employees’ complaints about Amazon’s working conditions and wages.
“Alabama is once again being watched by the rest of the world,” she said. “Birmingham, Bessemer, it is important that the world understands that Alabama is once again standing up for civil and human rights.”
Representatives Nikema Williams of Georgia, Cori Bush of Missouri, Andy Levin of Michigan, and Jamal Bowman of New York visited Alabama to meet with Amazon employees and representatives from the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, which is trying to organize staff.
The crowd assembled at the union’s headquarters and then marched to a crosswalk outside the Amazon complex.
The visit comes ahead of a House vote next week on the PRO Act, a labor-backed bill aimed at improving workers’ right to form collective bargaining unions. The bill is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled House, but lawmakers agree that it will face a tough fight in the 50-50 Senate, where Republican resistance is likely to keep it from obtaining the 60 votes needed to pass most significant legislation.
To unite the Alabama plant, a majority of the 6,000 employees will have to vote “yes.” Amazon unsuccessfully attempted to postpone the vote and mandate in-person voting.
The business, which has seen profits and sales soar as a result of the pandemic, has spent a lot of time convincing employees that joining a union would only cost them money. Staff already get what they’d get from a union, according to company officials: insurance, job advancement, and compensation that starts at $15 an hour.
Others, however, disagree.
It was “the most critical election for the working-class people of this country in my lifetime,” according to Levin, a Michigan congressman who was once a union leader.