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‘No sense of job security’: Amazon union organizers in Alabama tell Rep. Cori Bush, other lawmakers

‘No sense of job security’: Amazon union organizers in Alabama tell Rep. Cori Bush, other lawmakers

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Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-Missouri) held a local swearing-in ceremony on Feb. 19, 2021 at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis. The ceremony was live-streamed to the public, with a few in-person guests and performers. Bush was sworn-in officially in Washington D.C. on Jan. 4, but returned in St. Louis for a ceremony closer to her constituents. Her father, Errol Bush, held the bible as Circuit Attorney for the City of St. Louis led Bush in her oath. During the speech that followed, Bush spoke on how important her community is to her, the importance of getting an education and her commitment to the people of the 1st Congressional District.

BESSEMER, Ala. — A group of U.S. lawmakers visited an Amazon facility in Alabama on Friday to lend support to a growing push to unionize its workers, in what labor leaders and lawmakers called one of the most important union elections in United States history.

Workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, are voting on whether to become the first employees in the U.S. to join a union at one of the country’s largest employers.

The visit comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s recent statement defending workers’ rights to form unions. While he did not mention Amazon, he referenced “workers in Alabama.”

The move by the Alabama workers, which is being backed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), is a critical one for the U.S. labor movement that has struggled with declining membership in recent years. It is also a watershed moment for a growing unionizing drive within the tech industry that has long been hostile to organized labor.

The congressional delegation included U.S. Reps. Cori Bush, Andy Levin, Jamaal Bowman, Terri Sewell and Nikema Williams.

Addressing workers in Bessemer, Bush, who represents Missouri’s 1st Congressional District, called on Amazon founder Jeff Bezos “to do right by your workers. … We are asking you to treat people with decency and humanity. Treat them like they are human.”

“We are standing up for our workers, but we’re also standing up saying, ‘These workers, most of whom that look like me, we deserve better,’” she said.

Sewell, whose district includes Bessemer, likened the fight to the civil rights struggles in the area’s past.

“I know that Amazon workers stand in the same tradition as John Lewis ... as those foot soldiers that dare to change the world by having the audacity to stand up for their rights.”

The lawmakers also privately met with workers and organizers from the facility.

“We just want what’s owed to us,” said Kevin Jackson, an Amazon worker at the Bessemer warehouse who attended the meetings. “We want a seat at the table.”

Michael Foster, a lead retail union organizer, said workers at the facility reached out to the union for help, not the other way around. “We know we have people walking on eggshells because they have no sense of job security,” he said.

Amazon spokeswoman Heather Knox said she does not believe the retail union represents the majority of employees’ views and that Amazon offered “some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.”

Knox also said the company hopes “these members of Congress will spend this same amount of energy on raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour — as Amazon did for all of our employees in 2018.”

A new chapter

The vote could also help kick-start a new chapter for the labor movement in the southern states, where unions have long struggled to gain a foothold, labor experts said.

One of the main reasons for this has been fewer job opportunities in the region and political hostility toward unions, said William Gould, a labor law expert at Stanford Law. Gould is also a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

“But that is changing because of how companies such as Amazon have really tested the limits of workers’ endurance,” he said, adding that the pandemic had exacerbated existing health and safety issues.

Bessemer, which is about 15 miles away from Birmingham, the most populous city in the state, is majority African American — a fact that has also made the fight an important one for several lawmakers.

Levin separately told Reuters that Amazon’s policies are “egregious,” especially those such as “trying to force an in-person election in a pandemic hot spot.”

The NLRB decided on Jan. 15 to not allow in-person voting due to safety concerns during the pandemic. Employees will vote through mail-in ballots. Voting began in early February and runs through the end of March.

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