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  • Writer's pictureWes Hazard

This Community Has It In Its Bones

Amazon isn't exactly hiring goons with cudgels to crack heads but they are using some definite sleazeball tactics in an attempt to thwart the union organizing efforts of workers in their Bessemer, AL facility. Employees have been texted up to 5x a day with anti-union messaging, anti-union propaganda is hung at eye level in the facility's restroom stalls, employees are required to attend anti-union meetings while at work, and Amazon even worked with the city to tweak the traffic light timing outside of the facility to minimize the amount of time that motorists at the red light would have to speak with workers trying to spread information.

This piece really helps to historically contextualize the situation going on at the Amazon facility in Bessemer right now. Multi-racial union organizing goes WAY BACK in the area and if one place can be the first to make a union stand against Amazon it looks like they may be it.

Amazon is the second-largest employer in the United States, and one of the most powerful companies on the planet. The pandemic, as one financial analyst put it, served as a “growth hormone” for the e-commerce giant. After the government sent money to the U.S. population and shuttered much of the retail industry—Amazon’s competition—many of those dollars wound up in Amazon’s coffers. The results were record profits and a mind-boggling hiring spree. On an earnings call earlier this month, the company said it had added 175,000 employees in Q4 alone, more than triple the number added in the same period of 2019. As for Amazon’s founder, Bezos’s estimated wealth grew by around $100 billion during the pandemic. ... The Birmingham-Bessemer region was once a center of both the steel and iron industries, as well as home to coal and iron-ore mines. Coal strikes were a regular occurrence, and it was a stronghold of the United Mine Workers of America, responsible for Alabama having a 25 percent union membership rate by the mid-twentieth century. For context, that’s higher than any state’s current union membership rate. Deindustrialization decimated these numbers: In 2020, only 8 percent of Alabama workers were union members. ... “Companies like to hold the vote at the workplace and require people to come there,” says labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein. “Then they can coerce the people who are least engaged to vote, and they’ll vote no. But with a mail-in ballot, the least engaged won’t vote, and that makes it a little more likely the union will win.”

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