BESSEMER, Ala. (WIAT) — Some Amazon employees in Bessemer are advocating for union representation, saying the company treats them like robots with long hours and few breaks.
In order for the federal government to issue a unionization election, at least 30% of the employees have to want a union. At Amazon’s Bessemer distribution center, that criteria was met with at least 2,000 employees who said they want to move forward with a union vote.
Jennifer Bates works at the Amazon Bessemer Distribution Facility. She said she has expressed her concerns to human resources, but her concerns went ignored.
“The voices are speaking out, but we’re not heard,” said Bates. “Amazon doesn’t treat their employees like people… We’re treated like we’re robots. Long hours.”
Bates said employees are given two 30-minute breaks time during a 10-hour shift, as well as a 30-minute time off task.
“If it’s more than 30 minutes, you get a write up, for the whole 10-hour shift,” she said. “I’ve even heard a manager tell an employee when he said, ‘why can’t I go to break when it’s my time? I’m tired and hurting,’ she said, ‘if you don’t go to work then you don’t get a break at all.'”
Bates said Amazon has made their stance on the unionization effort clear by the messages posted in the facility bathroom, like the one shown below.
“Amazon said the union can’t make promises– Amazon hasn’t made any promises either,” said Bates.
She said she and other employees had to attend meetings that gave information against unionization. Bates said employees were not given an option to skip the meetings.
“It behooves me because they put a lot of energy in the classes to say don’t vote for the union when they could have been training their leadership,” said Bates.
Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lightly sent the following statement in response to Bessemer employee concerns:
“The fact is that Amazon already offers what unions are requesting for employees: industry-leading pay, comprehensive benefits from the first day on the job, opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern work environment. At Amazon, these benefits and opportunities come with the job, as does the ability to communicate directly with the leadership of the company. Direct dialogue is essential to our work environment in which we encourage associates to bring their comments, questions, and concerns directly to their management team with the goal of quickly improving the work environment and challenging leadership assumptions. We firmly believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce.”Rachael Lightly; Amazon spokesperson
This isn’t the first time Amazon workers have spoken out about how they’re treated on the job. In a 2020 interview, CEO Jeff Wilke was asked his thoughts on employees who felt they were treated like robots.
“Well, that’s not the experience that I had in setting it up or that I’ve seen, it’s, it’s certainly true that these jobs are not for everybody. And there, there may be people that don’t want to do this kind of work,” said Wilke.
Amazon employees would be represented by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. Its website states it will help improve working conditions, grievance procedures, and require a just-cause in employee disciplinary actions. These changes Bates said is needed.
“A lot of people are getting fired for mundane things, and they never get the chance to tell their side of the story,” said Bates.
Ballots to vote on the unionization be sent out to all Amazon Bessemer employees on Monday, February 8. The ballots will ask a simple yes or no question: do they want to be represented by the union? Employees will have until March 29 to respond. Then, the votes will be counted.
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