A unionizing campaign that had deliberately stayed under the radar for months has in recent days blossomed into a star-studded showdown to influence the workers.
On one side is the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and its many pro-labor allies in the worlds of politics, sports and Hollywood. On the other is one of the world’s dominant companies, an e-commerce behemoth that has warded off previous unionizing efforts at its U.S. facilities over its more than 25-year history: Amazon.
The attention is turning this union vote into a referendum not just on working conditions at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., which employs 5,800, but on the plight of low-wage employees and workers of color in particular, Michael Corkery and Karen Weise report for The New York Times. Many of the employees in the Alabama warehouse are Black, a fact that the union organizers have highlighted in their campaign seeking to link the vote to the struggle for civil rights in the South.
The warehouse workers began voting by mail on Feb. 8 and the ballots are due at the end of this month. A union can form if a majority of the votes cast favor such a move.
Amazon’s countercampaign, both inside the warehouse and on a national stage, has zeroed in on pure economics: that its starting wage is $15 an hour, plus benefits. That is far more than its competitors in Alabama, where the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
“It’s important that employees understand the facts of joining a union,” Heather Knox, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in a statement.
The situation is getting testy, with union leaders accusing Amazon of a series of “union-busting” tactics.
The company has posted signs across the warehouse, next to hand sanitizing stations and even in bathroom stalls. It sends regular texts and emails, pointing out the problems with unions. It posts photos of workers in Bessemer on the internal company app saying how much they love Amazon.
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