Amazon Employees’ Union Vote is a Watershed Moment for the Nation (Video)

Ballot counting began Monday for 5,800 Amazon fulfillment center workers in Bessemer, Alabama attempting to unionize with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

If successful, it will be the first Amazon warehouse to unionize, inspiring more Amazon and other non-unionized private sector industries to follow suit.

Historian Robin D.G. Kelley explained Monday on Democracy Now!:

“This is definitely the most significant labor struggle of the 21st century, no doubt. The South has been the epicenter of the country’s most radical democratic movements, which is why it’s completely unsurprising that Bessemer, Alabama, would be the place where you’d have a renewed labor movement.”

Senate Budget Committee Chair, Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders, traveled to Bessemer Friday.

Speaking at a Birmingham union hall rally, Sanders proclaimed:

“If history teaches us anything, it is that big money interests do not give you anything. You’ve got to stand up and fight for it. And in this, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, dealing with the wealthiest individual in the world, there is no excuse for workers at Amazon not to have good wages, good benefits and good working conditions. And if you pull this off here, Birmingham, Alabama, if you pull this off here, believe me, workers all over this country are going to be saying, ‘If these people in Alabama could take on the wealthiest guy in the world, we can do it, as well.'”

This moment has not come easily.

As history has taught us, wealthy corporations have vested interests in maintaining their fiefdoms where employees are wholly subservient to undemocratic policies, practices, and conditions.

The union movement has never come without its share of conflict.

Amazon employees are integral to that American struggle.

Bessemer warehouse employees, many of whom complain of “grueling” 14-hour workdays with only two 30-minute breaks, want Amazon to afford more break time.

Complaints about not permitting bathroom breaks abound.

Former Amazon delivery driver James Meyers explained:

“I saw no effort on Amazon’s part to push delivery service providers to allow their drivers to use the restroom on a normal human basis, leading many, myself included, to urinate inside bottles for fear of slowing down our delivery rates.

“Any time a van is off route or stops for longer than three minutes, it notifies the delivery service provider. Amazon encourages the delivery service owners to cut down on said stops. I would personally get called by a dispatcher every time I stopped to go to the bathroom. Sitting on the phone with them made the stop take longer. It just wasn’t worth the angry looks in the morning or the worry I’d get fired.” 

Workers feel Amazon betrayed them for not providing better protection from the Covid-19 pandemic.

As any other multi-national corporation terrified of democracy, Amazon is retaliating with $10,000-per-day anti-union measures, including contracting with one of the largest and most expensive union-avoidance law firms, anti-labor consultants, and law enforcement to intimidate workers, union advocates, and the press.

At a Senate budget committee on the income and wealth inequality crisis in America on March 17, Bessemer Amazon warehouse worker Jennifer Bates testified:

“We, the workers, made the billions for Amazon. I often say, we are the billionaires – we just don’t get to spend it.

“Amazon’s going to poor communities claiming that they want to help the economic growth. That should mean a living wage and benefits that truly match the cost of living, and ensur[ing] workers work in safe and healthy conditions, because we are not robots designed to only live to work.”

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos declined to participate in the hearing.

Bezos’ net worth increased nearly $65 billion the past year during the pandemic.

He (who also owns Whole Foods and the Washington Post) is one of two billionaires whose wealth grew an average of $42 billion each week$7.4 million every hour–the pandemic bared down on us, more than $700 billion total since last March.

Whether or not Amazon votes to unionize, the narrowly Democratically controlled Senate can do its part passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would prohibit companies from requiring workers to attend anti-union meetings.

Already passing the House of Representatives earlier this month, the PRO Act seeks to hand workers more power during employer disputespenalize companies that retaliate against workers who wish to organize, and provide hundreds of thousands of workers collective bargaining rights.

Private sector union membership in America is down to a paltry six percent.

Three years ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCMEcase public sector unions must no longer require members pay fair share, or “agency,” fees for representation and bargaining services unions are required to provide, summarily stripping bargaining power from America’s workers, undermining their ability to unify around better wages, benefits, workplace protections and standards for working families–basically turning the entire workforce into a “right-to-work-for less” sector, fulfilling a dream Republicans and right-wing groups have shared for decades.

The union movement fights on in Amazon workers.

Should those Bessemer, Ala. warehouse employees vote to unionize, private-sector workers all over America will as well.

Image credit: Joe Piette via Flickr

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.