Congressional Delegation Visits Alabama Amazon Facility Amid Union Vote

March 8, 2021

A group of U.S. lawmakers visited an Amazon facility in the Southern state of Alabama on Friday amid a vote in the first major unionization effort at an Amazon fulfillment center since 2014.

The congressional delegation, which included Democratic U.S. Representatives Andy Levin, Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Terri Sewell and Nikema Williams, visited the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, 15 miles from Birmingham, the state’s most populous city.

“This is the most important election for the working class of this country in the 21st century,” Levin, of Michigan, told workers. “This is the biggest election in the South in a generation.”

Sewell, whose district includes Bessemer, likened the fight to the civil rights struggles in the area’s past.

“I know that Amazon workers stand in the same tradition as John Lewis ... as those foot soldiers that dare to change the world by having the audacity to stand up for their rights,” she said, evoking the late Georgia congressman who fought for racial equality in the U.S for more than 50 years.

The lawmakers also privately met with labor organizers and workers from the fulfillment center, who are voting on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

The visit to the center came after President Joe Biden’s recent statement defending workers’ rights to unionize.

“Workers in Alabama — and all across America — are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace,” Biden tweeted. “It’s a vitally important choice — one that should be made without intimidation or threats by employers.”

Amazon, which has run ads in support of the Democrats’ drive for a $15-per-hour national minimum wage, is fighting the drive to unionize in Alabama, a right-to-work state — meaning state law allows residents to work without being forced to join a union or pay union dues.

“We work hard to support our teams and more than 90% of associates at our Bessemer site say they would recommend Amazon as a good place to work to their friends,” Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox said in a previous statement to Recode, part of the Vox news website.

"Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs,” she said.

According to the union, an estimated 85% of the workers at the facility are Black. Many of the workers have been complaining about grueling work, unsafe working conditions, and inadequate restrooms and food breaks.

"We're being treated like we're prisoners who're there to get a job done," said Jennifer Bates, a warehouse employee, who previously summed up what employees want: “Being heard.”

Voting is underway via mail and will end March 29.

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