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Posted on: Apr 26, 2021

By now most people are familiar with the recent attempt by employees to unionize an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer Alabama. It was a brutal battle!

The New York based Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, (RWDSU) at the request of Amazon employees, attempted to unionize the facility hoping to address, through collective bargaining, what employees described as a culture of abuse, a culture of surveillance and an unsafe place to work! 

One employee said she had to traverse a warehouse the size of 14 football fields to eat a hot lunch all under 30 minutes. It took so long to get to the lunch room and back that she didn’t have enough time to eat. Instead, she chose a $4.00 dollar sandwich out of a vending machine and hurried back to her work station. Besides lunch, employees contend trips to the bathroom and the water fountain are closely monitored.

The work in the fulfillment center can sometimes require being on one’s feet for most of a ten-hour shift. Repetitive stress injuries make up roughly 40% of all injures.

Of course, Amazon disputed the employee’s claims regarding the culture and work environment at the Bessemer facility. Amazon responded by contending the company already offers benefits, career growth and pay that starts at $15.00 per hour.

Both the Union and Amazon had a lot at stake. Both parties pushed hard, the Union brought in nationally recognized figures including Bernie Sanders to bolster the Union’s position. Five members of the U.S. House of representatives visited the Bessemer fulfillment Center, also in support of the Union. President Biden mentioned Union Employment in a speech during the week of the election.

Amazon responded with heavy push back. The RWDSU, in a post-election complaint, filed with the National Labor Relations Board, accuses Amazon 27 times of using misleading and intimidating tactics against the Union.

Although there was about a 2-1 vote against the Union, somewhat remarkably, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, in one of his last speeches to shareholders as he recently relinquished his role as CEO said, we need to do better by our employees! Mr. Bezos was referencing the recent Union battle. To Union supporters his statements were taken as admissions that working for Amazon may be less than the ideal as portrayed by the Company.  

Jeff Bezos, who’s leadership at Amazon included a vision that Amazon was “customer obsessed” stated he believed, in the future, Amazon must be, “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work."

I suspect there will be future attempts to organize Amazon, especially when the Union organizers say we don't need rhetoric, we need things to be fixed for the welfare and safety of all employees!

Article contributed by San Diego applicants' attorney David Dugan, Esq., CAAA Board Member