Calling the unionization effort by Amazon employers in Alabama a "historical" struggle that will inspire people across the nation, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday traveled to Birmingham to stand in solidarity with the warehouse workers and to affirm that the country "belongs to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires."
"If you pull this off here, workers all over this country will be saying, 'If these guys in Alabama could take on the wealthiest guy in the world, we can do it as well.'"
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
"If history teaches us anything, it is that big money interests do not just give you anything," Sanders (I-Vt.) told the rally, which took place with three days left until the unionization vote—which requires the approval of half of the Bessemer warehouse workers—is complete.
"You've got to stand up and you've got to fight for it," said Sanders, who was accompanied in Alabama by "Killer Mike" Render and Danny Glover, both artists and activists. "There is no excuse for workers at Amazon not to have good wages, good benefits, and good working conditions."
"What we know is if we are interested in expanding a middle class which has been shrinking for decades the only way to do it is to grow the union movement and you are in the forefront of that struggle," the democratic socialist and two-time Democratic presidential candidate said. "So I say to you... what you're doing is historical! Because all over this country people are sick and tired of being exploited, sick and tired of not having the dignity they deserve."
"Your message to people all over this country is stand up and fight back," asserted Sanders. "You're gonna do it here, we can do it all over this country, we can grow the middle class, we can make sure all of our working people can live with the respect and dignity they deserve."
The nation's billionaires, he added, "know if you succeed here it will spread all over the country. If you pull this off here, workers all over this country will be saying, 'If these guys in Alabama could take on the wealthiest guy in the world, we can do it as well.'"
Amazon worker Darryl Richardson, who launched the Alabama unionization effort, also addressed the rally. "It's just time to fight," he said, according to Al.com. "It's time for us to stand together and fight."
Linda Burns, another employee at the so-called fulfillment center in Bessemer, said that after tax deductions, her weekly pay is a paltry $300. Burns told the rally about how tough her job can be: "With one hand, I have to pick up 1,000 pieces in one hour."
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Burns—who said that if she is one minute late for work, she loses an hour of pay—appealed for solidarity. "We cannot fight Bezos by ourselves," she said, referring to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who is not only the world's wealthiest person and history's first multicentibillionaire in history, but is also on track to become the world's first trillionaire within this decade. Bezos will step down as CEO later this year and be replaced by longtime Amazon Web Services chief Andy Jassy.
What Amazon workers in Alabama are doing is historical. All over this country, people are sick and tired of being exploited, and what this effort says to them is: stand up, fight back. This country belongs to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires. pic.twitter.com/tYwS6JG5jl
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 26, 2021
Outside the United States, Amazon must contend with a high rate of unionization in labor-friendlier countries such as those in the European Union. However, the company has gone to great lengths to stymie U.S. 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.
Sanders supporters and Dave Clark—who heads Amazon's worldwide consumer unit—engaged in an online war of words ahead of the senator's visit to Birmingham after Clark tweeted Wednesday that Amazon is "the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that's not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace for our constituents: a $15 minimum wage, healthcare from day one, career progression, and a safe and inclusive work environment."
"Enough really is enough. How much money do the richest people in this country require? How much in profits do the largest corporations really need?"
Within minutes, Twitter erupted with derisive disapprobation. "You allowed 20,000 workers to contract [Covid-19] on your watch (at least!), covered it up, and then fired the employees who spoke out," Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) shot back on Twitter.
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 over $75 billion while the company's lowest-paid employees risk their lives for a vaunted—but, many say, inadequate—$15 per hour wage.
"Enough really is enough," said Sanders at Friday's rally. "How much money do the richest people in this country require? How much in profits do the largest corporations really need?"