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Brookings: The Battle for a Union at Amazon in Bessemer, Alabama

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The struggle now occurring in Bessemer, Alabama, to form a union at an Amazon warehouse could have a dramatic effect on the future of organized labor.

The pandemic made Amazon’s owner, Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world with a fortune approaching $200 billion.

But his workers are fighting for higher wages and decent working conditions.

A group of scholars at the Brookings Institution, led by Andre Perry, have summarized the historic struggle:

Amazon’s disproportionately Black workforce has risked their lives during the pandemic, but the company has shared little of its astonishing profits with them. Last year, Amazon earned an additional $9.7 billion in profit—a staggering 84% increase compared to 2019. The company’s stock price has risen 82%, while founder Jeff Bezos has added $67.9 billion to his wealth—38 times the total hazard pay Amazon has paid its 1 million workers since March.

Equally informative and interesting is this account of the union organizing drive that appeared in a recent issue of The New Yorker by Charles Bethea.

The union started collecting authorization cards—they amassed more than three thousand—and the National Labor Relations Board decided that the union had enough support to hold a vote. Amazon insisted that the election should be held in person, but the board, which has been allowing mail-in balloting since the pandemic began, ruled against the company. A seven-week balloting period began last month and will end on March 29th. The effort has garnered international headlines, and a handful of the employees who have been among the most involved, like Richardson, have spoken to reporters from across the country. One of the employees I talked to, Jennifer Bates, is slated to speak at a congressional hearing on Wednesday. Late last month, Joe Biden unexpectedly offered a statement of clear, albeit nonspecific, support for the union push. “Unions lift up workers, both union and non-union, and especially Black and brown workers,” Biden said. Though he did not mention Amazon by name, he referred to “workers in Alabama and all across America.”

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