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Union leaders are joined by community group representatives, elected officials, and activists for a rally in support of unionization efforts by Amazon workers in the state of Alabama on March 21, 2021 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

'Getting Nervous'? Bezos Told Amazon Execs to Hit Back at Critics Amid Historic Union Drive

"He's afraid that if Amazon workers in Alabama vote to unionize, it'll give workers all over America the courage to take on his greed and win economic justice."

Jake Johnson

With the closely watched and potentially seismic union election at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama nearing an end, new reporting indicates that CEO Jeff Bezos was the driving force behind a recent effort by company representatives to stave off progressive critiques of the corporation's well-documented maltreatment of employees.

Recode's Jason Del Rey reported Sunday that Bezos—the richest man on the planet—has "expressed dissatisfaction in recent weeks that company officials weren't more aggressive in how they pushed back against criticisms of the company that he and other leaders deem inaccurate or misleading."

"What followed was a series of snarky and aggressive tweets that ended up fueling their own media cycles," Del Rey noted, referring to top Amazon executive Dave Clark's message last week to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who visited Alabama on Friday to show support for the Bessemer organization effort as Amazon wages an aggressive anti-union campaign.

Clark's series of tweets characterizing Amazon as a "progressive workplace" prompted a flood of backlash and ultimately resulted in additional reporting on the company's workplace abuses, including productivity metrics so strict that employees are frequently forced to urinate in bottles to finish their tasks on time.

As Del Rey explained, the timing of the messages from Clark and Amazon's official Twitter account "likely was not coincidental":

Bezos and other Amazon leaders are on edge as the company is facing the largest union election in its history at its Bessemer, Alabama warehouse. Election results will be tallied early this week, and Amazon officials understand that if a majority of the employee voters vote to unionize, it could set off a chain reaction at other facilities, with the potential to force the e-commerce giant to overhaul how it manages its hundreds of thousands of front-line U.S. workers.

There was terror inside the executive ranks of Amazon the last time a union election was held at a US Amazon facility—and that was only a small subset of a warehouse's workforce, the majority of whom voted against unionization. That vote happened in early 2014, and consisted of just 27 technicians and mechanics at an Amazon warehouse in Delaware. In Alabama, though, the stakes are much higher with nearly 6,000 workers eligible to vote. Bezos knows all of this well.

"Jeff Bezos, worth $180 billion, is getting nervous," Sanders tweeted Sunday. "He's afraid that if Amazon workers in Alabama vote to unionize, it'll give workers all over America the courage to take on his greed and win economic justice. He's spending millions against this union to keep billions for himself."

Bessemer warehouse workers have until the end of the day Monday to submit their ballots in the union election, and vote-counting is expected to begin Tuesday. The historic union push has drawn significant attention at the national level, with members of Congress and President Joe Biden speaking out about the election's massive implications for organized labor across the country.

"Workers in Alabama—and all across America—are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace. It's a vitally important choice—one that should be made without intimidation or threats by employers," Biden said last month. "Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union."

Marc Bayard, director of the Black Worker Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies, told the Financial Times on Sunday that the Bessemer organizing push is "the ultimate David and Goliath story," pitting one of the largest and most powerful companies in the world against workers "located in one of the historically most conservative and historically racist states in the U.S."

"If you can win in Bessemer," Bayard said, "then you probably can win anywhere."


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