WASHINGTON (WIAT/AP) — President Joe Biden voiced his support for the Alabama union push on Sunday just as Amazon workers vote to form a union.
The potential Bessemer Amazon union vote has received a lot of attention over the past month and Biden has become the latest to show his support.
“This is vitally important,” Biden said. “A vitally important choice as America grapples with the deadly pandemic, the economic crisis and the reckoning on race – what it reveals the deep disparities that still exist in our country.”
The vote has begun. Over 5,000 Amazon workers at the Bessemer warehouse received ballots in recent weeks and a count will take place at the end of March. A majority of the 6,000 employees have to vote “yes” in order to unionize.
“The voices are speaking out, but we’re not heard,” said Jennifer Bates, an employee at the Amazon Bessemer Distribution Facility. “Amazon doesn’t treat their employees like people…We’re treated like we’re robots. Long hours.
This union push is one of the biggest and most visible labor-organizing pushes at the online retailing giant since they opened in 1995.
The vote could ultimately start a wave for workers to unionize across Alabama, even in a state that doesn’t favor unions. Alabama is one of 27 “right-to-work states” where workers don’t have to pay dues to unions that represent them.
“It’s your right, not that of an employer, it’s your right. No employer can take that right away,” Biden said. “So make your voice heard.”
Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, released a statement thanking Biden on his support for the unionization.
“As President Biden points out, the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is by organizing into unions. And that is why so many working women and men are fighting for a union at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama.”
If organizers succeed in Bessemer, it could set off a chain reaction across Amazon’s operations nationwide, with thousands more workers rising up and demanding better working conditions. Organizers face an uphill battle against the second-largest employer in the country with a history of crushing unionizing efforts at its warehouses and its Whole Foods grocery stores.
Attempts by Amazon to delay the vote in Bessemer have failed. So too have the company’s efforts to require in-person voting, which organizers argue would be unsafe during the pandemic.
Amazon, whose profits and revenues have skyrocketed during the pandemic, has campaigned hard to convince workers that a union will only suck money from their paycheck with little benefit. Spokeswoman Rachael Lighty says the company already offers them what unions want: benefits, career growth and pay that starts at $15 an hour. She adds that the organizers don’t represent the majority of Amazon employees’ views.
The last time Amazon workers voted on whether they wanted to unionize was in 2014, and it was a much smaller group: 30 employees at a Amazon warehouse in Delaware who ultimately turned it down. Amazon currently employs nearly 1.3 million people worldwide.
The mail-in ballots ask a simple yes or no question: do they want to be represented by the union? Bessemer Amazon warehouse employees will have until March 29 to respond. Then, the votes will be counted.