From the organizing committee of Target Workers Unite (TWU): An Open Letter of Solidarity with the organizing efforts of workers at the Amazon Distribution Center in Bessemer Alabama (BHM1) closing a vote today on whether to join the Department Store & Retail Workers Union (DSRWU) and become a union.
In October of 2020, Amazon disclosed that nearly 20,000 of its more than 1 million U.S. employees had contracted Covid-19. Meanwhile, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos added a staggering $132 billion to his wealth, becoming the public face of stark income inequality during the pandemic.
At the Amazon distribution plant in Bessemer Alabama (BHM1), where more than 80% of workers are Black, Martin Luther King Jr.’s face adorns yellow placards put up by the company itself, in ugly hypocrisy- the sign reads: The Dream Is Alive.
“The dream is definitely not alive at Amazon,” Perry Connelly, a 58-year-old Amazon worker in Bessemer, said in an interview with a journalist this month. “We work for a billionaire, but we can’t live comfortable, not struggling to pay bills. Am I gonna buy groceries? Or am I gonna pay for my medicine?” The signs that greet him every shift feel like a smack in the face, he added: “A lot of us were going to go and take them down.”
At Target Workers Unite, we share the sentiment that working in a dangerous job while earning less than a living wage during a pandemic is no one’s “dream” -, and we support the Amazon workers fighting at BHM1 to join a union to fight for better conditions at their workplace.
Amazon – whose CEO is the wealthiest man on Earth – has taken the most aggressively oppositional position possible against its workers organizing a union at the Bessemer distribution center. Instead of sharing the wealth from this year’s profits with the workers who’ve put their bodies on the line during this pandemic, and hiring more workers to share in the companies increased workload, Amazon is now paying almost $10,000 per day plus expenses to three anti-union consultants: Russell Brown, Rebecca Smith and Bill Monroe to beat the union – and the company is also paying for Facebook ads urging workers to vote “no” on joining a union. Why is investing in anti-union methods deemed to be such an affordable expense for Amazon, while paying the workers a share of this year’s record profits is not? Obviously the company sees these anti-union expenses as more cost-efficient in the long term than the possible eventuality of paying Amazon workers anything close to what they are worth – especially if the Bessemer organizing effort turns out to be a success that could grow to other centers across the country and ultimately around the world. The company has calculated this, and that’s the real reason why they are fighting so hard to convince workers not to unionize.
It’s been a rough year for us as essential workers. We’ve been forced to decide against our own health and safety, in order to pay our bills. The reality of coming to work every day into crowded spaces and unfiltered air means that we are simply not safe at our jobs – no amount of “social distancing” will change that reality. Our bosses “thank us” with platitudes of our “heroism” for putting our bodies on the line to help bring food and other necessities to everyone during this pandemic… but we don’t need these empty thanks — and we didn’t ask to be “heroes.” What we demand is respect for our safety, proper compensation for the risks we’re being exposed to, and a whole lot more respect for our bodies and our time. We’re fed up, and we’re fighting back.
We’ve listened to the stories of suffering and prison-like conditions for workers inside the distribution plants, and there’s so much to be disgusted by that it’s hard to know where to begin discussing the changes that are obviously needed from this employer. “You don’t have time to leave your workstation to get water,” organizer Darryl Richardsonhe says. “You don’t have time to go to the bathroom.” Those few minutes away (which Amazon tracks closely) can cause workers to fall behind on their production quotas, and too many minutes away can lead to termination. These are not reasonable conditions that any human being would want to work under.
On top of these conditions we know that the company’s anti-union consultants are peddling lies to the workers in an effort to get them to vote “no” against a union. We also know that Amazon workers – drivers especially, who are on the road making deliveries so tightly clocked that they have neither the time nor place to take proper bathroom breaks – have said that the practice of urinating in bottles to save time was so widespread that managers frequently referenced it during meetings and in formal policy documents and emails – in spite of the company having publicly denied these realities on social platforms like Twitter. In some cases, employees have even had to defecate in bags. But instead of doing something to alleviate this problem for workers, Amazon has instead retaliated against workers who are forced to resort to these unsanitary and humiliating practices. They punish the workers for a problem that the company itself has caused. And, they’ve lied about it to the public rather than take responsibility for the problem.
“A campaign against a union is an assault on individuals and a war on the truth. The only way to bust a union is to lie, distort, manipulate, threaten, and always attack,” Martin Jay Levitt, a former anti-union consultant, wrote in Confessions of a Union Buster, describing the sort of offensive anti-union companies like Amazon launch against workers.
What Bessemer workers in support of the union say they want is job security, better working conditions, a return of $2-an-hour pandemic hazard pay, less invasive surveillance at work, and to curb the use of aggressive time clock practices where workers are docked pay – a practice that is illegal in many states already, but unfortunately still practiced by predatory employers in places like Alabama where they can get away with it. And, workers across the board want to be treated like human beings, not robots. The demands from these workers are all reasonable – and achievable with a union -, but will be never granted voluntarily by Amazon bosses alone. This is why we support the workers at the Bessemer distribution center fighting for their right to unionize.
And we know we’re not the only ones on your side. Amazon’s unchecked wealth & power are so great that even forces who would normally be content to sit on the sidelines, like elected officials, are speaking up against the company’s abuses. In a public letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos signed by 401 parliamentarians around the world, elected officials said: “[W]hile your personal wealth has risen by around US $13 million per hour in 2020, these workers enter dangerous working conditions, enjoy little or no increase in their pay, and face retaliation for their efforts to defend themselves and organize their colleagues.” In short, Bessemer organizers – it seems everybody but your own employer is on your side in this fight to win a union.
We – and so many others watching – see the Bessemer distribution center workers as leading the way to a more hopeful future for the entirety of the working class – Target employees like ourselves included – as we fight for better conditions in our own workplace. “The vote at the Bessemer warehouse could be pivotal. If a majority of votes cast of the 5,800 workers at the facility, located in the suburbs outside Birmingham, favor the union, they will form Amazon’s first unionized facility in the U.S.” This is why Amazon bosses are fighting so hard to defeat the union. It’s also why it will mean so much to all of us if you win.
This campaign represents the largest union push at Amazon in the country, and if the workers win, they will be the largest number of workers to certify a union in a single NLRB election in three decades. Regardless of how this ends, we know that our fights are not over. What Amazon workers have organized for at BHM1 is historic, and we tip our hats to you for your leadership, which will set an example for others like us – and hopefully many more – to follow.