why the vote on the creation of the first union within the company in the United States is historic


Even before the results of the ballot box, the ballot is already recorded in history. The vote for or against the creation of a union in an Amazon warehouse in Alabama ends on Monday, March 29, after a David-style campaign against Goliath. The counting of the votes is due to begin on Tuesday and could give rise to a historic first on the lands of the trade giant, which will not come out of this election unscathed, whatever the outcome. Explanations.

The list of demands is growing

Members of the RWDSU distribution union have taken turns, day and night, since the fall, at the entrance to the Bessemer (Alabama) complex. This mobilization was born of an alert sent by a worker of 51 years, Darryl Richardson, who contacted the union to denounce the fear of being fired for nothing, the too short breaks and the hellish pace. The father of four previously worked for an automotive supplier, where the hourly wage had nearly doubled in a few years “thanks to the union”. “I know what a union can bring”, he said.

At the start of the pandemic, the company paid a bonus of two dollars per hour, before withdrawing it after three months. The move was one of the triggers, according to RWDSU regional leader Joshua Brewer. “Usually when a company like Amazon comes to Bessemer with a state-of-the-art warehouse and all these great jobs, you don’t have those kinds of problems. There, in four months, the employees couldn’t take it anymore.”, he recalls.

Among the employees mobilized, Lafonda Townsend acknowledges having been “happy with the salary” when hired. “That was before I saw how hard it is, she describes now. The break room is very far away and you have to eat like a prisoner, super fast, to be back on time, because if you are a minute late, you will be counted an unpaid hour. “

The movement took hold in a conservative state

The members of the RWDSU distribution union did everything to carry out the voting project for their creation. They first had to secure 3,000 tentative agreements, out of a total of 5,800 warehouse workers, before moving on to the actual campaign to demand a seat at the negotiating table. The milestone of 3000 supporters was not easy in this poor and conservative American region.

“It is a historically anti-union state, said former Democratic nomination contestant Bernie Sanders. It is no small thing in Alabama to stand up against a big corporation. “ Thus, it is in this state that is found “the only Mercedes factory without a union in the world”, notes historian Michael Innis-Jiménez.

“Historically, industries in the northeast [des Etats-Unis] came to the south (…) because the workforce is cheaper, less likely to be represented, and easier to lay off. “

Michael Innis-Jiménez, professor at the University of Alabama

to AFP

If the movement has taken hold, it is in part thanks to the history of the RWDSU, which participated, in the 1960s, in the organization of the marches against segregation alongside Martin Luther King and John Lewis, in Selma. The warehouse workers are predominantly African-American and have been sympathetic to the process.

Amazon delivers fierce opposition

As the campaign progressed, America’s second-largest employer became embroiled in a bitter communication struggle. Spokesmen have recently attacked, on Twitter, elected officials who support the union. They also denied the problem of workers forced to urinate in plastic bottles for lack of time to go to the toilet, referring to revelations dating from 2018, confirmed by documents and photos reported by various media, including the media. investigative The Intercept (in English).

Internally, the group has resorted to all kinds of deterrence tactics, including text messages extolling social benefits (including health insurance “since the first day”) posters in the toilets. According to employees, during “information meetings” Regularly, Amazon has brandished the scarecrow of high union dues (nearly $ 500 per year) and insisted on current incomes of at least $ 15 per hour, more than double the minimum wage in this poor state.

“They pounded workers day after day, telling them that with a union they should strike and then they could not pay their bills.”

Joshua Brewer, RWDSU host in Alabama

to AFP

The RWDSU even suspects the firm of having asked local authorities to shorten the time limit for the red light from the intersection to the entrance of the warehouse, a strategic location of the campaign, to prevent its members from arguing with drivers for too long. . According to pro-union media More Perfect Union, the county has confirmed that it has changed the duration at Amazon’s request, officially to make traffic easier.

Union activists stand in front of cars at an intersection outside the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, March 27, 2021 (PATRICK T. FALLON / AFP)

The movement could make a stain of oil

LPrevious organizing efforts within Amazon have failed in the United States. “Like most American employers, Amazon wants to maintain its power over everything and make sure workers can’t negotiate anything.”, analyzes Rebecca Givan, professor of social relations at Rudgers University in New Jersey. According to her, the group is ready to “almost unlimited spending” for “prove that any attempt is doomed to failure and discourage other employees in advance”.

Since the start of the mobilization in Alabama, however, the RWDSU says it has “received more than 1000 requests from about fifty different warehouses”. “This movement could not have happened anywhere other than here, where people died in the streets for the right to vote, enthuses Alabama Democratic Party chairman Christopher England. We are going to make history again “.


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