After weeks of voicing his support of the Amazon workers’ union drive in Alabama, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is headed to the state’s city of Bessemer on Friday to meet with the workers in the last days before the union vote.
“I am proud to stand in solidarity with Amazon workers in Alabama who are fighting for better wages and better working conditions,” Sanders tweeted on Thursday. “If they win, they will improve the lives of workers at the warehouse in Alabama and all over this country.”
Ballots for the union vote are due on Monday.
Sanders was an early proponent of the union drive, having voiced his support for the workers’ efforts since November, when they filed to hold a unionization vote. Last week, he held a hearing about the union drive with testimony from one of the union organizers. He called on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to testify, but Bezos declined.
Had Bezos accepted, Sanders said he would have asked: “Mr. Bezos, you are worth $182 billion — that’s a B…. You’re the wealthiest person in the world. Why are you doing everything in your power to stop your workers in Bessemer, Alabama, from joining a union?”
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Sanders has repeatedly emphasized his belief that, if the Amazon workers vote to unionize, it will be a “shot heard around the world,” benefiting workers far beyond Alabama. And even before the vote has ended, the unionization effort may already be having an effect. More than 1,000 Amazon employees across the country have reportedly contacted the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union about unionizing their workplaces. And Amazon workers in Baltimore, New Orleans and Denver have reportedly started talking about forming a union.
Amazon leadership is not so pleased about these developments. The company has likely already spent millions of dollars on aggressive union-busting efforts in Alabama and has recently further ramped up its already-repressive surveillance of workers. On Wednesday, the company attempted to fight back on Twitter.
“I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace,” tweeted Dave Clark, an Amazon executive. “If you want to hear about $15 an hour and health care, Senator Sanders will be speaking downtown. But if you would like to make at least $15 an hour and have good health care, Amazon is hiring.”
Clark faced immediate backlash for his statements, with many pointing out the company’s almost innumerable inhumane working conditions. Amazon workers are regularly deprived of breaks, to the point that some pee in bottles for fear of pausing to use the bathroom. They suffer extremely high injury rates at the factories. They fear getting fired at any moment. They risk getting COVID and dying, thanks to unsafe conditions. They face surveillance of their every move both in the workplace and on social media groups. They are often compelled to work through swelteringly hot temperatures inside the factories, or they are forced to endure so many overwhelmingly inhumane conditions at once that they die by suicide or have suicidal thoughts.
“Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a “progressive workplace” when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles,” tweeted Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin).
As support for the workers from politicians and the public grows stronger, and as more Amazon employees consider unionization, the company appears to be spooked — and its near-constant invocation of its $15 hourly minimum wage seems to be its main line of defense.
The official Amazon News account’s best defense against Pocan’s tweet, for instance, was telling. “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?” it tweeted in response to Pocan, implying that the company’s employees are lying. As many labor reporters have found over the years, the lack of bathroom breaks is actually an extremely common complaint among Amazon workers.
As a labor reporter who covers Amazon extensively…I can say Amazon delivery drivers not having a time or place to pee is one of the most universal concerns I hear about https://t.co/pG81MDf5TU pic.twitter.com/h3pGhOok1y
— Lauren Kaori Gurley (@LaurenKGurley) March 25, 2021
“Bernie Sanders is going to Alabama to support workers & Amazon is freaking out,” wrote Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan). “Here’s why: Workers are required to scan an item every ~11 seconds = ~300 items/hour & sometimes peaks. Corporate profits are coming before the safety + human dignity of their workers,” she wrote.