Will the giant Amazon be forced to accept the first union in one of its centers in the United States? The ongoing social struggle at this time is likely to have far-reaching consequences across the country. From the beginning of March to Monday, nearly 5,600 workers at a large Amazon warehouse in Alabama will have to decide whether they want to form a union. The e-commerce company has not yet tolerated any of them.
Employees at the Amazon Center in Bessemer, Alabama, in the south of the United States, have been expressing themselves through correspondence until Monday about whether or not to form a union within their company. An exceptional moment considering the weight gained in recent years by the company created by Jeff Bezos. Amazon has more than 1.2 million employees worldwide and 100 distribution centers in the United States alone.
The referendum, an important phase
But unlike in Europe, Amazon employees in the United States are not represented by any union. So the exception is when a vote takes place in Bessemer. Without even coming to the polls, there were other attempts at other centers. But there, more than 30% of employees said they wanted to vote, so, by law, there was no other option but to arrange this referendum. Yes an important step for supporters, they hope a union will help change working conditions on Amazon.
Europe 1 was able to follow the workers’ demonstration last week. “Union today, unions tomorrow, unions forever!” The cry was the cry of protesters gathered near the Amazon Center in Bessemer. This sunny afternoon, about fifty of them are empty, between a few hotels and a gas station on the highway. A tent has been pitched. They distribute leaflets in support of Amazon employees. Participants also have signs reading ‘yes to union’.
Link to “Black Lives Matter”
Curtis Gray Retailers and Wholesalers Association Officer, RWDSU. Takes pride in participating in an important moment. “It’s time for the unions to renew. They have been at a very low level for many years.
Little by little, others come to the meeting place, many families with young children or the elderly, soldiers of trade union struggles. A gigantic bus in the colors of the Black Lives Matter movement makes a respectable lap before hitting its residents. Because today’s demonstration is PLM. No wonder when you consider that more than 80% of Amazon employees at Bessemer are black. The trade union struggle is also a struggle against racial inequality.
“ Black people are important in everything they do as employees “
“Black Lives Matter,” says Angela Angel, local leader of the Black Lives Matter movement. “Not only in the justice system, but also at work. Black people are important in everything they do as employees. It doesn’t matter how much we try to silence them, no matter how much they fall prey. The biggest corporation in world history, they will continue to fight.”
Credits: Aviva Freight / Europe1
Employees are “not rated”
At a large concert of horns, the demonstration will turn into a caravan of passing and returning vehicles in front of a large hangar in the Amazon warehouse. Among enthusiasts, there are very few Amazon employees who are too scared about retaliation from the company.
Thirty kilometers away we meet Daryl Richardson on the premises of the Retailers and Wholesalers Association. He has been with Amazon for over a year. His dry eyes bear witness to the difficult life of this 51-year-old African-American. “From 7.15am to 5.45pm, I’m looking for at least 3,500 more products for Amazon,” the employee said. “It’s tired. My wrists ache, my legs hurt. I have hand cramps. Sometimes the cramps are so bad that I only use one hand to move the other. Maybe you don’t drink enough. Your whole body hurts you. When you get home, There is nothing you can do but sleep. You’re too tired to eat. Every day, we give 110% to Amazon, but we’re not worth it. “Talking about his working conditions, Daryl Richardson shakes hands nervously, a sign of the pain that comes with him every day.
Amazon, however, is proud to offer exceptional terms of $ 15.30 per employee, which is twice the legal minimum. An argument used by the company to prevent employees from unionizing. Amazon has stepped up anti-union rallies to persuade employees to vote ‘no’. “What did they say during these meetings? ‘The unions only want your arrears. They can not give you any guarantees. They will take your offers and salary. With your arrears, they will buy themselves new cars. During these meetings I asked them,’ Trade unions. If it’s too bad, why do you do everything you can to prevent them from coming here? ‘ Said Daryl Richardson.
Credits: Aviva Freight / Europe1
But Amazon’s arguments seem to have been marked with some employees. While the Black Lives Matter trailer is still rolling, it is parked on the side of the road in front of the entrance to the Lavonnet Stokes warehouse with a sign saying ‘Unions, find another cash cow’. According to her, those who seek a union create the preferences of spoiled children. “I think a lot of people who regret it are because they ask each other too much. When it seems to me that I’m going to the bathroom, I do not spend more than 30 minutes there .It’s given to us as many young employees do. , It has to be packaged. ”
“ I wonder what they will do to me every time I go to work “
Daryl Richardson, on the other hand, wants to believe that unionization will prevail, but he fears that the danger of jobs at Amazon has motivated more than one employee who has little interest in creating waves. He himself fears retaliation. “Every time I go to work I wonder what they’re going to do to me. Am I going to get fired today? They ‘re going to find a reason to release me. I always think about that.” But as long as I think I am doing the right thing to make things better for everyone, I have no regrets. “If ever his will is granted and yes wins, it will set a precedent that will lead to unionization in all Amazon warehouses in the United States.
Change with Pitan?
Trade unions played an important role in this country, especially after World War II. Some union federations are all powerful, such as the Lorries Association or the Lovers Association. But in 1981, Ronald Reagan dealt a blow to the labor movement by breaking the air traffic controllers’ strike, which had already begun to stumble. In thirty years, we have gone from 20% of union members in the United States to over 10% today. More than half of the U.S. states have enacted laws prohibiting the need to trade unionize to work. Court rulings, including the Supreme Court, have recently been very favorable to employers. This may change: Joe Biden is known to be pro-union.
The new US president has also given support to Amazon employees in Bessemer. During his campaign, he promised to end what he called the “war against the unions” and initiate far-reaching reforms. For example, he wants the federal government to intervene to guarantee negotiations between the unions and employers, where employers will often play without giving time.
Joe Biden wants to expand the right to strike, or to amend these laws that prohibit the obligation to unionize. He finally wants to raise the federal minimum wage from 25 7.25 to $ 15. Of course, with the highly divided Senate, such reforms seem ambitious. He already had to postpone the minimum wage increase. But he still sends a very strong signal to employees: his new labor minister is a former union leader.