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By Daniel Medina and Nandita Bose
(Reuters) – A group of US lawmakers visited an Amazon (NASDAQ 🙂 facility in Alabama on Friday to support a growing drive to unionize their workers, dubbed one of the top union elections in the US by union leaders and lawmakers History.
Employees at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Bessemer, Alabama, are voting on whether to be the first employee in the United States to join a union with one of the largest employers in the country.
The visit follows President Joe Biden’s recent statement defending workers’ right to unionize. While not mentioning Amazon, he was referring to “workers in Alabama”.
The move by the Alabama Workers, supported by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), is a critical step for the US labor movement, which has seen membership decline in recent years. It is also a turning point for a growing union initiative within the tech industry that has long been hostile to organized labor.
The congress delegation consists of the US representatives Andy Levin, Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Terri Sewell and Nikema Williams (NYSE :).
“This is the most important choice for this country’s working class in the 21st century,” Rep. Levin told workers in Bessemer. “This is the biggest election in the South in a generation.”
Rep. Sewell, of whose district Bessemer belongs, compared the struggle to civil rights struggles in the region’s past.
“I know Amazon workers are in the same tradition as John Lewis … as those foot soldiers who dare to change the world by having the boldness to stand up for their rights.”
The legislature also met privately with workers and organizers of the facility.
“We only want what is owed us,” said Kevin Jackson, an Amazon employee at the Bessemer camp who attended the meetings. “We want a seat at the table.”
Michael Foster, a senior RWDSU organizer, said the facility’s staff asked the union for help, not the other way around. “We know that people walk on eggshells because they have no sense of job security,” he said.
Amazon spokeswoman Heather Knox said she doesn’t believe the RWDSU represents the majority of employee views and that Amazon “has some of the best jobs available anywhere we hire and we encourage everyone to use our total compensation package that Compare health benefits and the work environment to any other company with similar jobs. “
A NEW CHAPTER
The vote could also help open a new chapter for the labor movement in the southern states, where unions have long struggled to gain a foothold, labor experts said.
One of the main reasons for this was fewer job opportunities in the region and political hostility towards unions, said William Gould, a labor law expert at Stanford Law. Gould is also a past chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
“But that’s changing because companies like Amazon have really tested the limits of worker endurance,” he said, adding that the pandemic has exacerbated existing health and safety issues.
Bessemer, about 15 miles from Birmingham, the state’s most populous city, is largely African American – a fact that has made the fight an important one for several lawmakers as well.
Levin told Reuters that Reuters’ guidelines were “outrageous”, particularly those like “attempting to force a personal choice in a pandemic hotspot”.
The NLRB decided on January 15 not to allow face-to-face voting during the pandemic for security reasons. The employees vote by postal vote.
Amazon spokeswoman Knox said, “Amazon has proposed a secure on-site voting process that has been validated by COVID-19 experts that would have given our employees the ability to vote on the way to, during, and from their already scheduled shifts . ”