At press time, 5,805 Amazon warehouse employees in Bessemer, Ala-bama, were voting on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. If they do, they will work at the company’s first unionized facility in the United States. Whether or not they do, similar votes will likely follow at other Amazon locations.
The seven-week voting process has been contentious. Amazon has aggressively lobbied workers to oppose the union, posted signs to captive audiences in bathroom stalls, and even arranged for shorter red lights at traffic signals outside the facility, where organizers were going car to car. The company points out that its starting pay is more than twice the federal minimum wage and that it extends benefits to some hourly employees. “Amazon already offers what unions are requesting,” company spokeswoman Heather Knox told the Washington Post.
BUT UNIONS aren’t just about compensation. They’re about giving workers a voice in their own workplace, the agency not just to make requests, as Knox puts it, but to be at the table making decisions. At the Bessemer facility, breaks are 30 minutes long — and the break room is often a ten-minute walk away. Some employees can’t find time to go to the bathroom. All are constantly surveilled. “It’s really dehumanizing,” Rep. Andy Levin, D., Mich., told NPR after visiting the facility.