Workers at one of the nation's most union-averse companies in one of the most hostile states toward organized labor got a welcome boost this week from Sen. Bernie Sanders, who tweeted his full-throated support for what he said could be a "shot heard around the world."
"If [Alabama Amazon employees] can negotiate higher wages and better working conditions in the South, it will benefit every worker in America."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
In a significant first step, workers at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Bessemer, Alabama, outside of Birmingham, filed notice with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the Washington Post—which is owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos—reports.
The notice states that the warehouse workers intend to hold an election to establish a collective bargaining unit to represent some 1,500 full- and part-time employees at the facility under the auspices of the Mid-South Council of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
Sanders (I-Vt.) first weighed in on the issue with a Monday tweet asserting that "all workers are entitled to decent wages and working conditions, which is why I stand with the Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama exercising their constitutional right to form a union."
"Mr. Bezos, the wealthiest person in America, must not interfere in this election," added Sanders, a staunch supporter of organized labor and a living wage throughout his more than four decades of public service.
All workers are entitled to decent wages and working conditions, which is why I stand with the Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama exercising their constitutional right to form a union. Mr. Bezos, the wealthiest person in America, must not interfere in this election.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) November 23, 2020
Tweeting again on Tuesday, Sanders said that "if Amazon workers in Alabama—a strong anti-union state—vote to form a union, it will be a shot heard around the world."
"If they can negotiate higher wages and better working conditions in the South, it will benefit every worker in America," he stressed. "I strongly support their efforts."
If Amazon workers in Alabama – a strong anti-union state – vote to form a union, it will be a shot heard around the world. If they can negotiate higher wages and better working conditions in the South, it will benefit every worker in America. I strongly support their efforts. https://t.co/ywldDO5hzv
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) November 24, 2020
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Sanders was re-tweeted by leading progressives including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who was widely praised—and panned—for helping to lead the successful opposition to Amazon's plan to open an East Coast headquarters in New York City.
Earlier this month, Alabama RWDSU secretary Allen Gregory tweeted a video encouraging the Bessemer warehouse workers to unionize, a move he said "is about dignity, respect, and fair treatment in your workplace."
"It gives you the opportunity to say, 'Hey, Amazon, we would like a seat at the table.'"
We’re gaining momentum, we are uniting in strength to make real change at Amazon, and it’s incredible! We need your help to keep spreading the word. Please share this latest campaign update video with fellow workers and urge them to sign a card today at https://t.co/QAeSFotMPL! pic.twitter.com/WawckSMn9B
— BAmazonUnion (@BAmazonUnion) November 5, 2020
It is a seat that Bezos is loath to offer. The world's wealthiest person—who is not only the world's first multicentibillionaire but who is also on track to become history's first trillionaire by the year 2026—must contend with a high rate of unionization in labor-friendlier countries such as those in the European Union.
However, Amazon has gone to great lengths to thwart unionization efforts, including smearing and firing workers who speak out against company policies and actions, reportedly hiring undercover Pinkerton union-busters, and using surveillance software against employees.
Amazon unionization has taken on greater urgency for many of the company's workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, during which Bezos' fortune has soared by some $70 billion while the company's lowest-paid employees risk their lives for a vaunted—but, many say, inadequate—$15 per hour wage.
As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, workers at Amazon and other companies who received welcome but temporary $2 an hour coronavirus hazard bonuses earlier this year are calling for their augmented resinstatement as the pandemic's dealiest phase sets to coincide with an expected record amount of online holiday sales that will make Bezos even richer while many of his employees struggle to survive.
"Amazon calls us heroes in their commercials, they call us essential, but it feels like we are expendable," said Amazon Fresh employee Courtenay Brown. "We need... $5 per hour in essential pay, safety on the job, and real protections from retaliation."