A Year After Historic Bessemer Push, More Amazon Facilities Vote on Union Membership

© AP Photo / Jay ReevesIn this Tuesday, March 30, 2021 file photo, A banner encouraging workers to vote in labor balloting is shown at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala.
In this Tuesday, March 30, 2021 file photo, A banner encouraging workers to vote in labor balloting is shown at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.03.2022
Ecommerce and web services giant Amazon has grown enormously as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to keep founder Jeff Bezos the world’s richest man. However, Amazon's aggressive anti-union tactics have also helped their bottom line, even as workers list a litany of complaints about grinding work schedules and unsafe conditions.
Workers at three Amazon facilities are likely to vote on whether to unionize their workplaces a year after Amazon tried to foul a vote in Bessemer, Alabama.
Between March 25 and March 30, workers at the massive JFK8 warehouse on Staten Island, New York, will cast their votes for or against joining the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), an organization established by labor activist Chris Smalls after he was fired from the facility in March 2020 for protesting what he said were inadequate COVID-19 safety protocols.
A second facility on Staten Island, the smaller warehouse LDJ5, is set to vote on joining the ALU beginning in late April.
Workers at the Bessemer facility also began a re-voting process last month after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agency that oversees union-employer relations in the US, found that Amazon unfairly interfered in last year’s vote. Their voting period will end on March 28. Unlike the two Staten Island facilities, the Bessemer workers have been organized by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), an established union that represents about 60,000 workers in the manufacturing and distribution sectors.

The likelihood of Amazon workers collectively bargaining for better working conditions is something Bezos and his team has spent more than two decades fighting to stop. That has included paying large sums of money for vigorous anti-union propaganda efforts, high-powered “intelligence analysts” to monitor labor organizing, and seeking out staffing and software to enable the prediction and prevention of unionization attempts. These moves have been coupled with sudden shifts in internal social networking systems intended to keep the company’s lowest-paid and hardest-worked staffers from communicating with each other, which Sputnik exposed in March 2021.

Workers have long complained about long work shifts without bathroom breaks, a high degree of surveillance of their work, and inadequate attention given to safety, including against the spread of COVID-19. Suicide is a shockingly common concern at Amazon facilities: The Daily Beast found that 189 emergency calls relating to suicide were made between 2003 and 2018.
Many of these dynamics only accelerated when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, sending billions of people home for safety and creating a massive demand for product deliveries. In the first six months of the pandemic, Bezos’ wealth ballooned by $48 billion, and in 2020 Amazon’s profits increased by 84% over the previous year. In 2021, the company added another 22% growth, bringing in $469 billion in revenue, according to company earnings reports.

Amazon isn’t the only company to face a union drive over the past two years, as Starbucks has faced unionization attempts in several stores, with at least seven shops already voting to join the Starbucks Workers United union and workers in 149 other shops signing cards in support of votes in their shops, too. October 2021 was dubbed “Striketober” by labor activists after tens of thousands of unionized workers also went on strike, part of a revitalization of aggressive labor organizing portended by the wildcat strikes mounted by teachers unions over the last decade.

“We’re in a different moment than two years ago, from the start of the pandemic,” John Logan, chair of the Labor and Employment Studies department at San Francisco State University, told the Washington Post on Friday. “And I’m not sure big anti-union companies like Amazon and Starbucks really grasp what has changed over the last two years.”
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