ALABAMA – Members of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Birmingham Chapter are in full support of Amazon workers at the Bessemer Fulfillment Center who are exercising their right to unionize in the Dixie State.
To show solidarity, in the days leading up to a union election, BLM has been working with Retail, Wholesale and Department Store (RWDSU) Union organizers on the ground. Together with Civil Rights leaders, they’ll be taking part in a car caravan around the Bessemer facility on Saturday, March 13, honking in support of workers and their trailblazing unionization efforts.
“My goal is to have a caravan that is miles long as we circle that facility for 20 minutes, just honking our horns so that when the employees come out they will see the BLM logos,” said Eric Hall, the co-founder BLM’s Birmingham Chapter. “There will be a procession leading to the rally where faith leaders, elected officials – local and state – Civil Rights and union leaders, will hear from the Amazon workers about their working conditions.”
BLM is supporting the union election at the “BAmazon” facility because upwards of 85% of the workers there are Black and Brown people, many of whom have felt they have been disrespected by their employer.
“The Black workforce has been treated as disposable and we are saying enough is enough,” said Hall. “That is why BLM is pushing so hard for this. We have purchased billboards, we have done regular advertisement and we are doing commercials. Black Lives Matter is not just a motivation, it’s an affirmation of Black lives and Black resistance.”
Along with BLM Birmingham, the BLM Global Network Foundation, the Democratic Socialists of America, several chapters of the NAACP, the Alabama Poor People’s Campaign, the Civil Rights Foot Soldiers, Movement Elders, SCLC, Concerned Clergy, other Black-led organizations and representatives of the RWDSU are expected to take part in the caravan.
“This movement is centered around getting the local community to show some support,” Hall said. “It has a lot of national attention, but we want to reach those 6,000 workers via their local community. We are bringing in their pastors, we are bringing in their community leaders and we are bringing in union organizers. We are bringing in the faces that they are familiar with on a day-to-day basis. When the cameras leave the facility, they will still have a community that will have their backs.”
Last summer’s BLM protests have embolden many hard-pressed BAmazon workers to press the historic fight for unionization, according to RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum.
“We see this as much as a Civil Rights struggle as we see it as labor struggle,” said Appelbaum. “The Black Lives Matter movement agrees with us, and has been working with us since the early days of this campaign.”
BAmazon workers have been organizing since the summer, and officially unveiled their campaign in October, according to Appelbaum.
“We started collecting cards to enable for us to reach an election on October 15, 2020,” said Appelbaum. “I think it is really important that Black Lives Matter is saying, that one solution for racism in the workplace is unionization.”
When you treat a workforce that is predominantly people of color poorly, it is unacceptable and wrong, Appelbaum added.
“It is very intentional why they came to Alabama and put that facility there,” said Hall. “They know that Alabama has one of the highest poverty rates, and they built the facility in one of the poorest cities in Alabama. That area was a steal because they knew it was a majority Black place, it was one of the poorest regions in the state and a lot of people there were struggling.”
Alabama is the fifth poorest state, according to 2020 research from Alabama Possible, a non-profit that studies poverty. Information compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Alabama Commission on Higher Education and Alabama Department of Human Resources shows that more than 800,000 people, including more than 250,000 children, live below poverty in the Dixie State.
Blacks made up approximately 28.4% of the people in Alabama living in poverty and Latinx folks made up 32.2%, according to the research.
Bessemer ranks at eight out of the top 10 poorest cities in Alabama, according to RoadSnacks.net, a real estate blog that compiles information from the Census, the FBI, OpenStreetsMaps and dozens of studies. There are 169 cities in Alabama.
“They are being micromanaged,” said Hall. “They don’t have access to clean drinking water and their bathroom times are monitored by their managers. The working conditions are hazardous and some of the employees are working with people that have Covid-19.”
Amazon tends to offer productivity bonuses and holiday pay more often than raises, according to Hall. When workers do get higher wages, increases amount to chump change. Managers often use anti-union rhetoric by saying that wages won’t go up or that bonuses will have to be eliminated if workers unionize.
“To Amazon you are just a number,” said Hall. “We are humans.”