April 9, 2021

Contested union election at Amazon: Regardless of results, Bessemer warehouse workers sparked a national movement.


April 9, 2021

Bessemer was just the beginning. 

BessemerA.L.  As the vote count currently stands, Amazon is poised to beat back the Black-led union drive at their warehouse in Bessemer. But this count leaves out hundreds of worker ballots that Amazon fought to exclude; and this count will not be without challenges, as Amazon likely committed numerous violations during this union drive. However, regardless of the current count, the labor movement recognizes and celebrates the national movement that these workers in Bessemer started. More from Jobs With Justice Executive Director Erica Smiley: 

These frontline, mostly Black workers faced an uphill battle against the trillion-dollar tech behemoth – Amazon, drawing pages from the Trumpian electoral playbook, pulled all the stops: they attempted to delay the union vote multiple times, restrict mail-in ballots, monitor ballot counters, intimidate organizers, kick all pro-union campaigning off warehouse grounds, and they even used their platform to spread aggressive falsehoods on social media in an effort to undermine elected officials and union allies. Despite it all, the workers in the small Birmingham suburb managed to bring the story of Amazon’s workplace abuses to the mainstream media, sparking a national movement in the process. 

The American public is now hyper-aware of what Amazon warehouse workers and drivers are forced to go through: Grueling hours with impossible demands. Not only does this mean little-to-no paid time off, it also means no time for breaks – even if it is to use the bathroomBut now that these stories are finally being told, thanks to the organizing of the Black workers in Bessemer, Amazon workers nationwide are finally feeling safe and supported enough to start organizing their own warehousesThe AFL-CIO’s own polling showed that 77 percent of the American public supported the Amazon workers in Bessemer; and the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, (RWDSU), which helped organize the drive in Bessemer, says they have heard from thousands Amazon workers around the country looking to start their own union drives. It’s becoming more and more clear: Bessemer was just the beginning.” 

Moving forward, the best way to ensure union elections are fair, and to prevent the anti-democratic tactics Amazon employed during the Bessemer warehouse drive, is for the United States Senate to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. The PRO Act, which passed the U.S. House in March, would ban Amazon from doing what it has done to squash worker organizing all throughout the pandemic, including: 

  1. Forcing workers to attend captive audience meetings where supervisors bash organizing efforts and spread anti-union messaging without competing views. 
  2. Retaliating against workers for organizing for better conditions – see Amazon’s firing of Staten Island warehouse worker Chris Smalls. 
  3. Stalling the election process so-as to disrupt union organizers and keep workers from voting in a timely manner.

It will still be some time until the union results in Bessemer are finalized, as the National Labor Relations Board will have to review potential electoral violations committed by Amazon during this process. But one thing is for certain – this process would have been a lot fairer, smoother, and more transparent, if we had the PRO Act. 


Jobs With Justice is the country’s leading nonprofit in the fight for workplace and economic democracy. Comprising a national network of local affiliates in nearly every state, Jobs With Justice brings together coalitions of unions, worker organizations, community groups, students, and faith institutions to win concrete improvements in people’s lives. 


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