Greetings from the Burgh, where Payday is in the midst of some very exciting plans to release a major package of interviews, videos, a podcast, and more on the union vote at Amazon in Alabama in late March.
Today we’re bringing you a special newsletter with an overview of the challenges and changing dynamics of Amazon’s union organizing drive that has been shaping up to be a real dogfight for organized labor. (See Payday’s story “Amazon Offers $2,000 “Resignation Bonuses” to Bust Union Drive in Alabama”)
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Over 100 Union Organizers at Amazon in Alabama As Amazon Expected to Spend over $40 Million Fighting the Union
While RWDSU’s international union is supporting their efforts in Alabama, the overall strategy and direction is largely led by the small Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union Mid-South Council (RWDSU), which has over 15,000 members, including 5,000 in Birmingham.
This is unlike the failed campaigns at Boeing, Nissan, and Volkswagen, where efforts were led by outside Northern union organizers shipped down South.
Indeed, RWDSU organizers can point to union contracts of nearby local warehouses to argue that Amazon workers would like to see a raise under a RWDSU contract.
In addition to RWDSU’s presence, there are over 100 union organizers from a variety of unions in Alabama going door-to-door to answer questions about unions, people’s concerns, and get people involved in recruiting their fellow co-workers to support the union drive.
With over 6,000 workers voting for the union election, the union’s effort to recruit members ahead of the vote is being opposed by Amazon’s massive anti-union effort that is expected to cost them well over $25 million.
During the Nissan union election in Canton, Mississippi in 2017, the company spent nearly $13 million opposing the union in an election that the union was widely expected to lose from the beginning.
The online retailer has already deployed sophisticated psychological profiling and tracking tools and its anti-union pitch being delivered to workers in captive audience meetings and anti-union literature is becoming extremely sophisticated.
Black Morgan Lewis Attorneys Leading Anti-Union Effort
While the upper management at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse is almost entirely white, the anti-union captive audience meetings are being led almost entirely by Black anti-union attorneys from the outside firm of Morgan Lewis.
The law firm most notably includes veteran union buster Harry I. Johnson, III, a white former Trump NLRB official based out of Los Angeles, Calif.
The thinking goes that in an overwhelmingly Black workforce, Black union busters are seen as more trustworthy effective messengers of the anti-union message to Black workers than the white anti-union consultants who run these meetings.
Biden & Harris Hesitant to Get Involved in Amazon Union Reduction
Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the occupation of the Wisconsin Capitol, where President Barack Obama famously refused calls to get involved on the union’s behalf, which some say later contributed to the defeat of the union and repeal of collective bargaining rights for public employees in the State.
Now with the majority of the nation’s workforce being Black women (President Biden’s key voting demographic), some union observers are hoping that Vice President Kamala Harris will get directly involved in pitching the Amazon union to workers.
Local organizers say that the presence of the Biden administration in the fight could greatly help their effort.
“I would certainly welcome the Biden’s administration involvement and certainly think it could help,” Alabama AFL-CIO President Bren Riley told Payday Report in an interview last week.
However, the Biden Administration, so far, is showing no signs of getting involved. More from Dave Jamieson at HuffPost:
Joseph Geevarghese, the executive director of Our Revolution, a progressive group that grew out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential run, argued that Biden has a responsibility to condemn Amazon’s anti-union efforts directly. He said it would send an important symbolic statement, the way Ronald Reagan’s firing of the air-traffic controllers signified “open season on unions.”
“The truth is that this is bigger than Amazon,” Geevarghese said.
Jeff Hauser, director of the executive branch watchdog group Revolving Door Project, said the administration is dealing with a massive economic and public health crisis, but should still find time to censure Amazon’s anti-union tactics.
“A president affirmatively committed to the labor movement can and should also urge Amazon to quit undermining worker democracy,” Hauser said. Even if that support ultimately failed to move the needle, he said, “the ties between working people and the president would not be weakened but indeed strengthened.”
Black Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin & Danny Glover Rally Workers in Alabama
Yesterday, in the heavily Black workforce at Amazon in Bessemer, Alabama, actor Danny Glover, who was heavily involved in the failed 2017 to unionize Nissan in Mississippi, and 39-year-old Black Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, helped to rally union and Black Lives Matter activists to back the unionization effort.
Edward Ongweso Jr. and Lauren Kaori Gurley have the story at VICE:
“What we should be concerned about is listening to employees and employers in a position to give a space that works better for employees. I think they should voluntarily do it,” Woodfin said of Amazon.
It was a big day for unionizing Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama. Coming out in full support of the Amazon union drive, 74-year-old actor and activist Danny Glover spoke to the press on the side of the highway opposite the Bessemer warehouse, and greeted warehouse workers ending their day shifts. Glover, a vocal union supporter, has previously helped campaign for union elections in the South, including the defeated 2017 union drive at a Nissan plant in Mississippi.
“MLK said that the best anti-poverty program he knows of is the union,” Glover said. “That’s why I’m here.”
Alabama AFL-CIO Spends $75K for Spot on TV Airwaves
In all four of the major losing union efforts that Payday covered — Nissan in Canton Canton, Miss. in 2017; Boeing in Charleston, S.C. in 2017; Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn. in 2014; and again at Volkswagen in Chattanooga in 2018 — employers and their allies have used extensive TV ad buys to worry workers that unionizing could hurt the long-term viability of their plant.
Boeing alone spent nearly $600,000 in TV ad buys to successfully defeat a union drive there in 2017 and similar amounts were spent defeating other union drives.
Not to be outdone, the Alabama AFL-CIO is now showing up on air with a $75,000 ad buy this week. Both pro-union and anti-union groups in Alabama are expected to continue to pound the airwaves in the weeks leading up to the election at Amazon in what will be one of the most high-powerful union votes in the US in a generation.
Folks, that’s all for today for our special newsletter on the union vote at Amazon in Alabama.
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