Inspired by Alabama Coworkers, Amazon Employees Nationwide Begin Union Talks: Report

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A slew of Amazon workers in Baltimore, New Orleans, Portland, Denver, and Southern California are looking into unionizing, emboldened by their Alabama coworkers’ high-profile union campaign, Bloomberg reported Friday.

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Amazon workers have been fighting to organize for years, citing backbreaking workloads, unsafe conditions amid the global covid-19 pandemic, dystopian workplace surveillance, and Amazon’s history of blatant retaliation against those who speak out against this unjust treatment. Now, nearly 6,000 employees at an Amazon distribution center in the majority-Black city of Bessemer, Alabama are set to vote this month on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union.

In an interview with Bloomberg, the RWDSU said 1,000 Amazon workers across the country have already reached out to explore their options for potential unions at their own facilities.

“People understand this is about something much bigger than Alabama and even much bigger than Amazon,” RWDSU Stuart Appelbaum told the outlet. “It’s really about the future of work and how workers are going to be treated.”

Several Amazon workers Bloomberg spoke with began discussing unionization with their coworkers after seeing the success of the Alabama campaign. One employee at a warehouse in Denver, Colorado said he created an online chatroom for coworkers to discuss organization. Another warehouse worker in New Orleans, Louisiana said he made the five-hour drive to Bessemer last month to participate in a pro-union rally. He added that all his Alabama coworkers’ hard work could become a flashpoint for reform if other Amazon warehouse staff follow their lead.

“If the most powerful company in the world can be unionized in an anti-union state like Alabama, it gives hope to people in Louisiana, in Mississippi, in West Virginia who are trying to do the same thing,” he told the outlet. “We just have to support the fight wherever it’s at because the fight is going to come to us.”

However, many workers fear retaliation given Amazon’s stringent union-busting efforts over the years. The company’s run an extensive anti-union campaign in Alabama, pushing ads on Amazon-owned Twitch, Twitter, and other social media platforms, texting workers with pro-management messages, and running recruitment ads for union-busting experts. President Joe Biden even weighed in on Amazon’s meddling ahead of the Alabama vote, warning the e-commerce giant that its union-busting efforts must involve “no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda.”

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One Pennsylvania warehouse worker told Bloomberg that, with all this in mind on top of Amazon’s already grueling workloads, it’s been difficult to get coworkers fired up enough to even begin union talks.

“People are just trying to work and go home,” she said in an interview with the outlet. “Amazon makes you very tired, drained both physically and mentally, but benefits are good.”

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The Alabama election is being conducted via mail-in ballots that will be counted on March 30, after which Amazon could see a flood of union campaigns at its other warehouses and beyond. A recent nationwide poll shared with Gizmodo surveyed hundreds of U.S. and Canada-based Amazon delivery drivers and found that the bulk of them supported unionizing.

In his interview with Bloomberg, Appelbaum said that even if Amazon workers in Alabama ultimately opt not to unionize, “this campaign will result in an explosion in organizing around the country.”

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DISCUSSION

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Amazon workers have been fighting to organize for years, citing backbreaking workloads, unsafe conditions amid the global covid-19 pandemic, dystopian workplace surveillance, and Amazon’s history of blatant retaliation against those who speak out against this unjust treatment.

These are all great reasons for starting a union, because obviously pursuing unionization is a perfectly rational response to consistent mistreatment at the hands of your employer. But it’s also important to point out that joining a union makes sense even if your company currently treats you well (as Amazon claims it does with its workers). The reason to join a union isn’t just because your company is shitty. The reason to join a union is because the union will protect your interests in a way that you simply cannot depend on management to do. Sure, you may love your boss and your job and your company and the benefits and pay may be great. But what if someone comes along and offers to buy out your company? Do you think your current great owners are going to protect your interest when they are being offered a huge payday? Are you willing to bet your well-being on it? What if your company goes public and suddenly has shareholders demanding 3-5% growth in profit every quarter.  Do you think management is going to protect your paycheck over their own jobs?  What if your company’s financial fortunes tumble, either through management’s own incompetence, through underlying economic conditions, or some combination?  The point of a union is to have someone protecting your interests because there is no guarantee in the future that your interests and the interests of management will align.