A group of Alabama employees spearheads the largest unionization attempt at Amazon

A Group Of Alabama Employees Spearheads The Largest Unionization Attempt At Amazon

New York – As soon as Jennifer Bates leaves her place in the Amazon warehouse where she works, to go to eat, the clock begins to tick. You have exactly 30 minutes to get to the cafeteria and return from your break.

That means traversing a warehouse the size of 14 football fields, costing you valuable time. Bates also avoids bringing food from home because heating it up in the microwave would take even longer, so he opts for a cold four-dollar sandwich from the vending machine and rushes back to his seat.

If you do, you’re in luck. Failure to do so could result in Amazon reducing her salary, or worse, firing her.


That’s the kind of pressure that has led several Amazon workers to organize the biggest union attempt at the company since its founding in 1995. Plus, it’s happening in the most unlikely place of all, in Alabama, a state with laws that don’t they favor unions. In fact, the state is home to the only Mercedes-Benz plant in the world that does not have a union.

The stakes are high. If the organizers are successful in the Alabama town of Bessemer, they could set off a chain reaction to Amazon’s operations nationwide, with thousands more workers rising up to demand better working conditions but facing an uphill battle. Amazon is the second-largest employer in the United States, with a track record that includes shutting down unionization attempts at its warehouses and its Whole Foods chain of stores.

Amazon’s attempts to postpone voting in Bessemer have failed, as have its efforts to demand a face-to-face vote, something organizers argue would be unsafe amid the pandemic. Voting by mail began this week and will run until the end of March. Most of the 6,000 employees have to vote in favor in order to unionize.

Amazon, whose profits and income have skyrocketed due to the coronavirus pandemic, has campaigned strongly to convince workers that a union would only take money from their wages and have few benefits. Company spokeswoman Rachael Lighty says the company already offers what the unions demand: benefits, a growth opportunity and a salary that starts at $ 15 per hour. He added that the organizers do not represent the position of the majority of Amazon employees.

Bates makes $ 15.30 an hour unpacking boxes of deodorants, clothing, and countless other items that are subsequently shipped to consumers. The job, which the 48-year-old woman got last May, forces her to stand for most of her 10-hour workday. In addition to food, Bates says his visits to the restroom are also closely supervised, as is going to get water or fetch a new pair of work gloves. Amazon denies this, noting that it offers two 30-minute breaks during each shift and extra time to go to the bathroom or drink water.

The last time Amazon workers voted to create a union was in 2014, and it was a much smaller group: just 30 employees at an Amazon warehouse in Delaware who ultimately voted against forming a union. Amazon currently has about 1.3 million employees worldwide.

The attempt to unionize in Alabama also runs counter to the fact that it happens in a Republican-controlled state that generally does not support unions. Alabama is one of 27 “right to work states” where employees are not required to pay dues to the unions that represent them.

Dawn Hoag says she will vote against organizing. The 43-year-old has worked at the warehouse since April and finds that Amazon makes it clear that their positions are physically demanding. Furthermore, she believes that she can speak for herself without having to pay dues to a union to speak for her.

“That’s just what I think,” Hoag said. “I don’t see any need for you.”

Unions have been forming in unusual places lately. Last month, about 225 Google engineers created a union, rare in the high-wage tech industry. Google has fired workers who dared to sue, although the company claims it was for other reasons.

At Amazon, things have not ended well for workers who speak out, either.

Last year, Amazon fired Christian Smalls, a worker who led a strike at a warehouse in New York hoping for better coronavirus protection from the company for its employees.

The office staff who joined in and talked about the conditions in the warehouses during the pandemic were also fired, although Amazon argues that it was for other reasons. An Amazon executive resigned in protest in the spring of last year, noting that he could not stay with the company while its employees were being silenced.

Bates is aware of the risks.

“I know it could happen,” she said about being fired. “But it’s worth it”.