Bessemer, Alabama — The South has never accepted organized labor. But that may be changing. An important test in Alabama determines whether thousands of workers on the Amazon campus will form a union.
Labor organizers and supporters see the battle between David and Goliath as a potential turning point in areas with a long history of undervalued labor and persistent hostility to collective bargaining rights. Victory can have economic and political ripples for the labor movement and its Democratic allies.
“This election goes beyond this one workplace. It transcends this one powerful company,” said Stuart Aperbaum, National President of Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Unions. “If we can organize workers in the Amazon, Alabama, in the midst of a pandemic, that means we can organize any worker.”
The mere presence of national union members, such as Alabama’s Aperbaum, emphasizes gambling.
Amazon’s vote takes place when Democrats and Republicans are fighting fiercely for working-class voters. Over the decades, many white workers have been drifting towards the Republican Party, partly attracted to their cultural identity and dissident attitude. As a result, Democrats are looking to improve economic marketing, claiming that they are fighting for higher wages, better working conditions, and more affordable health care.
The victory at Bessemer, where the majority of the workforce is black, will be even more important as a starting point for a new political organization in the South that Democrats want to build on their recent success.
It could be decisive on newly discovered battlefields like Georgia, where Biden pulled into the party’s presidential column for the first time since 1992 and the Democratic Party won two senate elections. It could be a component of a Republican-controlled state like Alabama or Mississippi. And the national domino effect could boost Democrats in older industrial Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, which are backed by Republicans.
Biden did not mention Amazon’s campaign directly, but received praise from Labor leaders in a recent video speech promoting the right to organize through “free and fair elections.”
Continuous postal voting by about 6,000 workers is the largest union push ever at Amazon, one of the wealthiest companies in the world. Elections until March are also ranked as one of the largest single-organization efforts in southern history. This follows a series of unsuccessful organizational votes at auto assembly plants such as Nissan in Mississippi in 2017 and Volkswagen in Tennessee in 2019, which have flocked to the region over the last three decades.
“Wages in the region have fallen since the days of slavery,” said historian Kelly Lee Merritt. Please play with each other. “
As a result, almost all workers are paid “below the domestic market,” Merritt said.
According to Census Bureau data, the median household income for 2019 in the United States was $ 62,843. In Bessemer, part of an industrialized belt on the outskirts of Birmingham that was once flooded with steel mills, that figure was $ 32,301.
“We just want what we owe,” said Kevin Jackson, a distribution center worker.
Black, Jackson compared Amazon’s wages, which start at $ 15 an hour (about twice the minimum wage), to the property of Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of a company with a net worth of hundreds of billions of dollars.
“If you kick the dog many times, the dog will bite,” Jackson said. “We are biting back.”
Union elections overlap with Parliamentary Biden and Democrats who are promoting the “PRO Act,” a bill that has reviewed labor legislation to facilitate organization. The bill represents the most important labor law change since the New Deal era, following a decades-long slide in union membership. In 1970, almost one-third of the US workforce joined the union. In 2020, that number was 10.8%.
The House of Representatives approved an overhaul on Tuesday, mostly in party-line votes, but faced an almost certain defeat in the 50-50 Senate, where major bills require at least 10 Republican votes to avoid filibuster. doing.
Even without the law, Labor leaders say Amazon’s results could be a starting point for national labor organizations. Regionally, victory will provide a roadmap to the union-unfamiliar southern workforce as a daily part of the economy.
Mary Kay Henry, chairman of the Service Employees International Union, said workers in Alabama were “exciting,” adding that her union and other unions are considering expansion.
The southern deficit of organized workers is clear. All 11 states of the former Confederate Army have so-called “right-to-work” laws. As a result, the union members become a coalition. It undermines unions by reducing union membership and bargaining power. Most southern states also ban collective bargaining of civil servants.
When measured as a labor force, the entire region lags behind national union members. For example, the United Auto Workers has more than 400,000 members, and the region has a wealth of internationally owned car factories and related suppliers, but only 12,000 in the southern states.
Merit, an expert in southern labor politics, has drawn a straight line from the pre-Civil War economy to the current climate.
Before slavery was abolished, she said white workers were threatened to be replaced by slaves, either explicitly or implicitly, and deprived of their relationship with their employers. After liberation, free black workers and poor white workers had to compete in a devastated agricultural economy that struggled to recover from the war. Eventually, northern businessmen entered the southern market and joined the Baron of White Land in the South to take advantage of cheap labor in industries such as textiles, steel and mining.
This trend continued as the regional economy expanded with chemical and oil refineries in Texas and Louisiana, coastal shipbuilding, and finally automobile plants from Texas to Carolina.
Generations of elected civil servants in the South (Democrats and Republicans) have completed marketing to outside businesses.
“They always offered significant tax cuts and basically sold people by moving factories south. Look, we always give you solid labor prices and labor laws in favor of employers. We can provide, “said the merit.
Some observers say history should soften expectations.
Robert Colstad, an emeritus professor at Duke University, an expert in the evolution of southern labor, said: “So it’s not easy.”
Amazon has a long record of defeating organized campaigns and tells workers that the union orders membership fees when they already receive the type of compensation benefits that the union negotiates, including health insurance. We held a mandatory session to convey.
“We already provide everything the union demands and believe that we value direct communication with our employees,” said Heather Knox, a spokeswoman for the company.
Amazon provided a similar message to elected Democratic officials who joined Aperbaum on a recent visit. “Welcome to Bessemer, parliamentarians,” read an electronic sign in the facility’s parking lot. “Match with Amazon’s minimum wage of $ 15 / hour.”
All house members there were already upholding the $ 15 wage bill.
Union organizers are showing Bessemer its own signs. This suggests a wide range of political possibilities beyond the campaign. Outside the Amazon warehouse, Stacey Abrams, a voter advocate (recognized as the early architect of Biden’s victory in Georgia), is a symbolic symbol of worker power, Rosie the Rive. There is a banner drawn as a character of “Riveter”.
“We can do that,” the banner says.
The labor movement targets the Amazon as a foothold in the South | News
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