Two weeks before Amazon workers cast their final votes in a historic moment in organizing labor, the southern collective continues to set the precedent in a march towards collective bargaining rights.
Jennifer Bates, an Amazon worker fighting for union representation, is scheduled to speak at a Senate Budget Hearing on the Income and Wealth Inequality Crisis in America on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.
Bates is one of 5,800 workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama facility (BHM1) voting this month to become unionized. A majority vote will allow them to become represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), an association launched in the 1930s by a collective of New York City unions that included warehouse workers and retail clerks.
“We have an excitement when we come through the door,” Bates said in an AL.com article. “Amazon could be an awesome place to work.”
While most BHM1 employees start at just over $15 an hour, they want to ensure better working conditions after being some of the most important essential workers in the country during the shut down. “During the pandemic, 664 billionaires in America have increased their wealth by $1.3 trillion. Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, owns more wealth than the bottom 39% of Americans combined,” said Chair of the Senate Committee on the Budget, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) in a release.
Reports show that Bezos increased his wealth by $58 billion between March 2020 and March 2021. That wealth has been on the backs of over 1 million workers worldwide. Former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich calls this gross wealth gap “a tale of two pandemics.”
For the hearing, Sen. Sanders invited Bates and Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, who declined. “I say to Jeff Bezos, the richest person on the planet: what is your problem with Amazon workers organizing for better working conditions and better pay? You are worth $182 BILLION. You cannot continue to have it all when so many are struggling.” posted Sen. Sanders on Twitter.
The world watches the predominantly Black, mostly women labor force. Other Amazon workers around the world have offered their support, along with numerous union organizations, elected political officials and labor activists. Ark Republic, who has been an associate union member with NewsGuild Philadelphia since 2018 expressed support too.
The road to unionization has been rocky. Before the BHM1 efforts, Amazon employees at other locations attempted to unionize, but efforts were unsuccessful. Vox reported that the last attempt was by mechanics in 2014. Leading up to the vote, Amazon has taken considerable efforts to thwart the vote. They filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board to carry out votes only in-person, but were denied. The attempt to carry out a vote during a pandemic is emblematic of the repeated complaints of BHM1 facility workers regarding Amazon’s lack of implementing safer working conditions.
If the vote passes, Amazon workers will be able to enter into collective bargaining with the company. Since the vote made headlines, RWDSU told Business Insider that Amazon workers at over 1,000 sites have contacted them for union representation.
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