Two big forces have helped drive the unionization effort: the pandemic’s focus on essential workers and the racial reckoning brought on by Black Lives Matter protests.

Amazon opened the Bessemer warehouse in March 2020, just as the coronavirus was taking hold in America. The pandemic made clear the critical role essential workers, many of whom were Black and paid hourly, played in serving customers and the economy broadly. Amazon had extraordinary growth last year, as people turned to online shopping instead of venturing into stores. It went on a huge hiring spree, ending the year with 1.3 million employees and $386 billion in sales.

In early summer, George Floyd’s killing prompted calls for racial justice, and the union has focused its organizing on issues of racial equality and empowerment. It has a decades-long history of working on civil rights and labor issues in the region. Around the same time, Amazon ended the extra pay it had given workers earlier in the pandemic. The workers who started the organizing said their pay was not commensurate with the risks they took and the productivity they must maintain.

Amazon has said it does not believe the union represents the views of a majority of its workers and that it would disrupt the direct relationship the company has with employees. Amazon plays up its minimum wage of $15 an hour, plus benefits like health care and parental leave. The minimum wage in Alabama is $7.25 an hour.

In its communications with workers, through signs plastered in bathroom stalls, a website and mailers, Amazon has said the union’s dues would leave workers with less money for things they want or need, like school supplies. It does not mention that in Alabama, a “right to work” state, paying dues is optional.


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