Counting is presently underneath approach for the historic union election at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, and union organizers and leaders all through the labor motion are hoping the effort will assist provoke support for employees and unions within the south and across the US.

Tevita Uhatafe, 35, a member of Transport Workers Union of America Local 513 within the Dallas space, was one in every of a number of union members and leaders who visited Bessemer to lend their support for the union organizing drive.

“I just wanted to hear workers’ stories, see what was going on there and learn a little bit about what was going on with their lives, as well as what can we do to help these people and support this union effort,” mentioned Uhatafe.

The enthusiasm comes as a pivotal second for US unions. Joe Biden was elected on a pro-union platform and solely this week told a crowd in Pittsburgh: “I’m a union guy. I support unions. Unions built the middle class, and it’s about time they start to get a piece of the action.”

The large publicity the Amazon vote is attracting is an opportunity to tell a youthful generations that haven’t obtained plenty of training on the historical past of the US labor motion in regards to the position unions have performed in Alabama, mentioned Uhatafe.

“I really wanted to show them that there’s a new generation that’s coming up that wants to bring this movement into this generation, and show people that we really do fight for their jobs and for their livelihoods,” he added. “There’s going to be a whole lot of organizing going on if this is successful – even if it isn’t, the fuse has been lit.”

Other labor leaders and employees echoed his sentiments.

“The union drive in Bessemer, Alabama, is going to have a ripple effect,” mentioned Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, the most important federation of labor unions within the US. “It’s about so much more than Amazon. It’s about fundamental power and inequality. About a labor movement that’s innovating and organizing on a new frontier to take on issues like data collection, and making progress in the long march for civil rights. And Bessemer is inspiring people all over the country to take collective action with their co-workers. This isn’t the end, it’s a powerful beginning.”

The coronavirus pandemic uncovered poor working situations in industries and jobs the place employees are deemed “essential” and praised as “heroes” however typically obtain wages and advantages that make it troublesome for them to make ends meet. The dangers posed by Covid-19 typically worsened working situations and heightened issues about security protections in locations like Amazon warehouses that not solely continued working, however noticed surges in demand and income.

Chris Smalls, who was fired from Amazon’s Staten Island, New York warehouse after organizing a protest firstly of the pandemic over Covid-19 security issues, has spent the past year taking part in actions and talking out in favor of organizing efforts at Amazon across the US, together with in Alabama.

“This is the most important union drive since probably the Great Depression,” mentioned Smalls. “The whole nation is watching this vote. Our hopes no matter which way it goes is that Alabama lights a spark for all of us to start organizing in a city near you. That’s exactly what we intend to do and I support any and all efforts to do so.”

The union drive has drawn support from group leaders, organizers and elected officers across the US, and within the Birmingham, Alabama space. Labor unions, together with the Major League Baseball Players Association, NFL Players Association, a number of members of Congress, celebrities and organizations have publicly endorsed the effort, participated in solidarity rallies in cities across the US, or visited Bessemer. Workers all over the world have additionally posted video messages to publicly announce their support for the unionization effort.

Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally in support of unionization at an Alabama Amazon facility on 26 March.
Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally in support of unionization at an Alabama Amazon facility on 26 March. Photograph: Nathan Posner/REX/Shutterstock

“Without unions we would not have the 40-hour work week, vacation days, sick leave, or employee benefits that millions rely on. Unions built the middle class of this country, and have played a historic role in shaping Birmingham and Jefferson county as a whole, granting opportunities to thousands of working families,” mentioned Randall Woodfin, mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, in an announcement in support of the union.

“Birmingham has a long history of workers of all races banding together to demand better working conditions, and the unionization effort in Bessemer is a critical chapter in the history of organized labor in our community.”

The Rev Tonny H Algood with the Alabama Poor People’s Campaign defined that historical past within the south, as industrialization within the southern US grew after the second world battle as companies sought low cost, non-union workforces, and state governments have since characterised themselves as pro-industry.

“The state has sided with corporations every time,” Algood mentioned.

As an instance, he cited Jefferson county changing the visitors gentle patterns exterior the Amazon warehouse on the request of the corporate as union organizers utilized the cease to talk with employees, and the use of local police offering safety for the Amazon warehouse.

From Martin Luther King’s launching of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1967, Alabama, particularly within the Birmingham space, has a vast history of labor union organizing related to the civil rights motion. During the 1960s, civil rights activists in Birmingham relied on their labor union relationships to bolster the civil rights motion, equivalent to Col Stone Johnson, who recruited different union members to function bodyguards for the houses and church buildings of native civil rights motion leaders, or Henry Jenkins, a Retail Wholesale Department Store union member and store steward in Birmingham, Alabama, who confronted racist threats and assaults whereas organizing employees within the space within the 1960s.

An estimated 85% of the employees on the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer are Black, and organizations like Black Lives Matter-Birmingham and union organizers have emphasised these connections via the union effort.

“This type of organizing and collaboration is not new to Alabama. It seems as though Amazon thought that they can come to Alabama and extend this slave labor-like working environment and that would be okay here,” mentioned Celida Soto Garcia, the president of Sweet (Sustainable Water, Energy and Economic Transition) Alabama. “I guess they didn’t read up on history, because that’s never permissible here in our state. Historically it never has been and never will be.”

She expressed disappointment with Amazon’s adversarial response to the union organizing drive, particularly given the immense wealth founder Jeff Bezos has collected from the corporate. Throughout the union election course of, Amazon has employed costly anti-union consultants, attempted to delay the election and drive an in-person vote, and pushed anti-union messages to employees via texts, posters, adverts, emails, a web site, captive viewers conferences and mailings. Amazon’s union opposition has prolonged to social media, as executives and its public relations crew have repeatedly asserted the corporate’s union opposition.

“I really expected more from Amazon. We celebrated their arrival here because we expected more from this multibillion-dollar corporation but it seems that they want to move forward with treating our invaluable people here in Alabama like cogs in the machine,” added Soto Garcia. “We’re going to win this for them and we’re not going to stop fighting until we win this for them.”

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