Backed by a national labor union and Democratic socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a notice has been filed informing the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that there is an attempt underway to unionize Amazon’s state-of-the-art fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama.
This facility outside of Birmingham just opened earlier this year, employing more than 1,500 full-time associates who pick, pack and ship essential items to customers.
On top of Amazon’s $15 minimum wage, the company offers industry-leading benefits to full-time employees, which include comprehensive healthcare from day one, 401(k) with 50% match, up to 20 weeks paid parental leave and Amazon’s innovative Career Choice program, which pre-pays 95% of tuition for courses in high-demand fields. Since the program’s launch four years ago, more than 25,000 employees have pursued degrees in game design and visual communications, nursing, IT programming and radiology, just to name a few.
Per the latest available data from the Alabama Department of Labor, Bessemer has the third-highest rate of unemployment among the state’s major cities.
On top of the Bessemer fulfillment center, Amazon in recent weeks announced its plans to open two delivery stations in Alabama: one in Bessemer and one in Birmingham. These stations will reportedly create hundreds of full- and part-time associate jobs, all paying at least $15 per hour, in addition to hundreds of driver opportunities for Amazon’s Delivery Service Partners and Amazon Flex drivers.
However, all of this progress could come to a screeching halt.
The New York City-based Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, has launched the “BAmazon Union organizing campaign.”
As organized by this campaign, the paperwork newly filed with the NLRB serves as notice that at least some Amazon workers in Bessemer want to hold an election to determine whether or not they will unionize; and, of course, the RWDSU would represent the workers under the filing.
Observers may have heard of RWDSU before. In fact, this was the union involved in the 2019 cancellation of Amazon’s plans to open a second headquarters in New York City, reportedly killing 25,000-40,000 jobs in the area. U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) was a vocal ally of the union in its efforts.
On Monday, Senator Sanders tweeted, “I stand with the Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama exercising their constitutional right to form a union.”
Apparently unaware of Amazon wage policies, a former Democratic candidate responded to Sanders’ tweet by writing, “We deserve a $15 minimum wage!”
Sanders’ tweet pointed to the need for “decent wages and working conditions” as reasons for backing the BAmazon Union push.
The Washington Post on Monday reported, “Amazon counters that its warehouses are safe and that it pays a minimum wage of $15 an hour, as well as offering such benefits as health care, vision and dental insurance, spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said in an emailed statement. ‘We don’t believe this group represents the majority of our employees’ views.'”
Amazon director of operations Travis Maynard has previously described the Bessemer fulfillment center as “a safe, innovative workplace.” Maynard also pointed to the “industry leading pay and benefits that start on day one” at the facility.
At the groundbreaking for the Bessemer fulfillment center in 2018, Governor Kay Ivey praised the “high-tech environment” that Alabamians would get to work in at the facility.
“Amazon is one of the world’s most dynamic companies, and we couldn’t be more proud to see the company select Alabama for one of its high-tech fulfillment centers,” Ivey said when plans to build the Bessemer facility were finalized in June 2018.
“This facility represents good jobs for our citizens and the beginning of a long partnership that I believe will see Amazon expand and grow in Alabama in the future,” she added.
Upon the recent announcement of the plan for the two delivery stations, Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley said, “I am extremely excited with the relationship the city of Bessemer has established with Amazon. The Fulfillment Center which opened earlier this year has been a tremendous success and has given opportunity to many of our residents as well as others throughout Jefferson County and the surrounding communities.”
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn