On Sunday, over two dozen people gathered in Madison to rally in support of the union efforts of Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama. Next to an Amazon hub locker on West Johnson Street attendees carried signs that read “Union Busting is Disgusting” and “Bezos Billions Belong to Workers.”
Co-organized by Our Wisconsin Revolution and Madison Socialist Alternative, the rally sponsored a solidarity petition with the workers in Bessemer.
A vote to unionize the nearly 6000 employees at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer failed last week. The final tally was 738 votes in favor, 1798 votes against.
Peter McGrane is a member of Madison Socialist Alternative and an organizer of Sunday’s rally. He says despite the loss, progress has been made for the worker’s rights movement.
“The fight for this is just beginning, and there are efforts to organize other Amazon warehouses throughout the country. I’ve already heard rumors about the Teamsters getting involved and beginning to start a unionizing struggle in Iowa. So, even if this one goes down in defeat, there are valuable lessons learned,” said McGrane.
Chad Whiteside is an essential worker in food processing and belongs to a union. He came out on Sunday to encourage better working conditions and treatment for Amazon employees.
“I just hope that Amazon is held to the standard that they claim to be—which is fairness and a good working environment. We want to see the employees have a fair shake, without being intimidated by their employer,” said Whiteside.
The honks of support from cars crossing East Campus Mall continued as Jacob Druker spoke to the crowd about Amazon’s response to the union effort in Alabama.
“Amazon was threatened by this union. So they went all out to beat it. They are the largest company in the world. We cannot be too shocked that they beat the union this time. But this campaign has exposed Amazon’s labor practices to the world. There has been renewed scrutiny on the working conditions in Amazon warehouses,” said Druker.
In response to the union effort in Bessemer, Amazon held mandatory “information sessions” for workers in the Alabama warehouse and put up “Do it Without Dues” signs in the workplace. And union pushback from Amazon is now being contested at the National Labor Relations Board by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union who was behind the Bessemer drive.
More complicated claims that Amazon changed the timing of a traffic light outside the plant to decrease union organizers’ ability to talk with employees as well as installing a mailbox on the grounds to monitor the vote have also been scrutinized by the union and its supporters.
Union organizers at the Bessemer warehouse included themes of the Black Lives Matter movement in their messages. The New York Times reports that many of the Bessemer employees are African-American.
On Sunday, Madison resident Alex Wilburn connected Amazon workers rights to the larger movement against systemic racism.
“As Fred Hampton speaks about, racism and classism have this nature that is upholding a white supremacist system. That oppresses all of us that are not in the 1 percent, especially if you are a nonwhite member,” said Wilburn.
As for Amazon workers in Wisconsin, no union efforts have taken root yet. Peter McGrane and Madison Socialist Alternative are here to help if that happens.
“We want to find Amazon workers here in Wisconsin who are ready to fight for a union. We have a big warehouse down in Kenosha and that is a major hub for Amazon, big hub for their midwestern shipment,” said McGrane.
“There is also a facility on Milwaukee Street that they’ve built out, and a warehouse out on Tradewinds Parkway out in the county. There are a lot of places to be organized. So we hope to connect with workers. Ideally, we will find Amazon workers today who are fed up with the working conditions Amazon puts people under,” he added.
Amazon is the second largest private employer in the United States with over 800,000 workers. Amazon employees earn a starting wage of $15 dollars an hour and are provided healthcare and other benefits. The company leaned on these facts to prove a union was unnecessary.
McGrane made the case that workers aren’t afforded these benefits without a fight.
“Look at what the workers are saying. There’s a lot of sort of, what I would find naive belief, saying that if they talk to management they will address their concerns. That is not true, that has never happened once in the history of labor relations in the United States. The only way that you win gains, like a 40 hour work week, a weekend, and 8 hour day, is if you fight for them.”