Student Opinion: The Importance of the Fight for Amazon Unionization in Alabama

(Awood Center)

By Liam Benedict

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon has reached record profit highs, due in part to their online grocery delivery business. Not only this, but they have also taken 427,300 new employees into the corporation since the start of the pandemic. Many people have had no choice but to come work for Amazon as the virus continues to keep small businesses closed and shut down. 

This injustice is also amplified by the brutal conditions of working in an Amazon Warehouse and driving for them. These new COVID-19 hires make what’s currently being discussed in Alabama that much more important. 

Right now in Alabama, there is an ongoing vote among a chapter of Amazon workers, deciding whether or not they should form a union. Although they face fierce opposition from Amazon, it would be a landmark decision for multiple reasons if they were to unionize. This vote might also serve as a turning point, both in the history of Amazon and of Organized Labor as a movement. 

The 5,805 workers of the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer consider whether they want the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to represent them. If they vote yes, they would be the first Amazon warehouse in the United States to unionize. 

It is then believed that it could spur other Amazon warehouses to follow suit if that were to happen. And if one of the largest employers in the country can get unionized, then the trend might spread to other major employers and industries. After all, as Rebecca Givan, a labor studies professor at Rutgers University, put it, “Collective action is contagious.” 

Unionization in Amazon is desperately needed before it becomes the modern-day coal mine, a comparison that becomes more true each passing year. Consider, for instance, the controversial supreme court case Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, which asked if Amazon workers should be paid for the time they spend going through the thorough anti-thievery security checks. 

Many people have connected this to a 70-year-old Supreme Court case, which debated whether coal miners should be paid for their time going up and down the deep mine shafts. Even though the Supreme Court disagreed, many people believe that one should be paid for any activity that a company labels as mandatory. 

Look also at the Amazon Warehouse strike on Staten Island in 2019. Six hundred workers delivered a petition to management, demanding more break time, safer working conditions and free MetroCards for their lengthy commute—a clear connection to the previous case. 

The strikers pointed out that “15.8 per 100 workers suffered injuries significant enough to be reported to OSHA, requiring medical treatment beyond first aid. That is higher than the average for any occupational category monitored by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, including garbage collection, coal mining, and law enforcement,” reported 

With these facts in mind, unionization makes perfect sense for these Amazon workers. Amazon realizes this, however, and has been waging a non-stop, borderline illegal information war against the Birmingham workers, bombarding them with anti-union propaganda. 

This barrage is almost constant. The employees of Amazon receive “'[n]early five text messages sent daily, urging them not to abandon the winning team.’ It’s also pressing its case with leaflets and mandated anti-union meetings.” 

The Bessemer employees are not even safe in the one place people expect privacy the most—the bathroom. The Washington Post reports fliers being posted on the inside of the bathroom stalls at the Bessemer facility, reading, “Where will your dues go?” 

As one anonymous Amazon worker put it, “I feel like I’m getting harassed.” 

These actions by Amazon are despicable. Even President Joe Biden, who has a lukewarm history with labor unions, threw his support behind the Alabama Amazon Workers,  denouncing Amazon’s propaganda. Biden recently made a statement, tweeting out, “Workers in Alabama – and all across America – are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace. It’s a vitally important choice – one that should be made without intimidation or threats by employers.” 

The people down in Bessemer, Alabama, have finally had enough of their unfair working conditions. They refuse to be treated like assembly line robots anymore. And the fact that this labor movement emerged in the heavily conservative state of Alabama shows just how desperate the situation has become. 

Thus, I wish these workers luck—it’s about time. 

Liam Benedict is a first-year English major from the small town of Galt, California. He is a writer and is planning on becoming a lawyer in the future.

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