Amazon workers might make a breakthrough at a company that’s done everything it can to trample organized labor. Nearly 6,000 employees at a Bessemer, Alabama, fulfillment center will soon be able to vote on whether to unionize; mail-in ballots are to be submitted by March 29, and the National Labor Relations Board will count them the following day.
Someone, however, isn’t happy about the organizing efforts.
A person or entity made a crude, cartoonish anti-union website, Doitwithoutdues.com. “HEY BHM1 DOERS, why pay almost $500 in dues?,” it reads, over a splash photo of a warehouse worker giving a thumbs-up. (BHM1 is the name of the Bessemer warehouse.) “We’ve got you covered* with high wages, health care, vision, and dental benefits, as well as a safety committee and an appeals process. There’s so much MORE you can do for your career and your family without paying dues.”
Amidst cheerful decorations—an Amazon package with hearts and a GIF of a corgi spinning a record—the site misleadingly claims that workers will be locked into paying dues. (This is not true: Nobody is forced to become a dues-paying union member, even if workers vote to unionize.) The site offers a portal for workers to return cards they would have signed in order to petition for an election with the National Labor Relations Board.
At the footer, the site displays an Amazon logo. In an email, an Amazon spokesperson neither confirmed nor denied that the site is affiliated with the company.
The BHM1 warehouse opened early in the pandemic, when Amazon went on a hiring spree. The pandemic has also correlated with a nationwide wave of worker organizing, including protests against unsafe conditions and fair pay; meanwhile, increased public scrutiny plus surging demand has given them a little more leverage. Amazon workers have been fighting to organize for years, and Amazon has met them with anti-union propaganda and surveillance, as well as dismissal. (While it’s illegal to fire a worker for organizing, Amazon workers in Alabama can be fired at any time for any reason without a union.)
If workers vote to unionize, they’ll be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The RWDSU declined to comment, but it has previously supported Whole Foods employees’ attempt to unionize and represented a Staten Island warehouse worker who was fired after speaking up for better working conditions.
In a statement email to Gizmodo, Amazon didn’t say that it’s anti-union per se, but that “we don’t believe the RDWSU represents the majority of our employees’ views.” It’s unclear where the RDWSU’s “views” diverge from that of employees, but Amazon asserted that it offers “some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire.”
This can still be true, but workers might also want things like job stability and a grievance procedure so that they don’t have to choose their amazing jobs over things like going to the bathroom. Workers could also bargain for hazard pay, which the company granted and then revoked a few months into the pandemic. (In October, before the worst of the winter surge, the company said that nearly 20,000 workers had contracted covid-19.) Adding to the years of reports of brutally long shifts under surveillance, recent reports have revealed overwhelming rates of injuries in the company’s warehouses.
Amazon, the New York Times has pointed out, hasn’t come this close to a union since 2014, when the large majority of 27 technical workers voted against unionization. A representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers then said that workers had “faced intense pressure from managers and anti-union consultants.”