NEW YORK – When Amazon learned that its employees were trying to form a union, the company posted signs through a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, including a bathroom booth, a worker said Wednesday.
“Nowhere was it banned,” said Ennie Jennifer Bates, a warehouse worker who testified about income inequality during a Washington hearing.
Bates, a trade union supporter, on Wednesday described how Amazon was pushing back the company’s biggest trade union effort since its inception in 1995 as an online bookstore.
In addition to the signs, he said, Amazon sends messages to employees’ phones, forcing employees to attend meetings several times a week, which can last for almost an hour.
“The company would just hit for different reasons why the union was bad for us,” Bates said. “If anyone raised their voices and disagreed with what the company said, they would just stop the meeting.”
The stakes are high for Amazon. If the organizers succeed in Bessemer, it could trigger a chain reaction across Amazon’s operations, with more employees coming up and demanding better working conditions. At the same time, labor advocates hope the victory at the Alabama facility could help the labor movement in the south, which was not hospitable to organized labor.
However, the organizers will have a difficult battle. Amazon, the country’s second-largest private employer, has a history of cracking down on Whole Foods’s warehouses.
On Wednesday, Amazon.com did not deny that it hung signs in the bathroom or held mandatory meetings. Instead, the statement said, it follows all the rules and guidelines of the Alabama National Council on Labor Relations that it respects the right of workers to form, join, or join a union.
The Seattle-based company also said it took Bates’ comments seriously but did not believe his comments were directed at other employees.
“We encourage people to talk to the hundreds of thousands of Amazon employees who love their job, earn at least $ 15 an hour, receive comprehensive health care and paid leave benefits,” the company said in a statement.
The nearly 6,000 Besemer warehouse workers have until the end of March to vote on whether they want to unite.
Big names have come out in support of the union, including Sen. Bermini Sanders, a non-Vermont independent, and Stacey Abrams, a one-time nominee for governor of Virginia. Last week, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio backed the organizers, saying, “Life’s important.” According to the organizers, most of the warehouse workers are girls.
Earlier this month, President Biden released a two-minute video saying workers in Alabama, across the country, had the right to unite without being intimidated by their companies, but he did not mention Amazon directly.
Bates, who actually testified before the Senate Budget Committee, called working in the warehouse “unpleasant” for all the walks he has to do in an institution that has 14 football fields. Bates said he hopes the union will set more breaks, make Amazon more respectful of employees, and pay more than $ 15 an hour that the company currently pays.
“All we want to do is make Amazon a better place to work. “But Amazon is behaving as if it were attacked.” “Maybe if they had spent less time and money trying to end the union, they would have listened to us.”