A group of U.S. lawmakers visited an Amazon facility in Alabama on Friday (March 5) to lend support to a growing push to unionize its workers, in what labor leaders and lawmakers called one of the most important union elections in United States history.
Workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, are voting on whether to become the first employees in the U.S. to join a union at one of the country’s largest employers.
The visit comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s recent statement defending workers’ rights to form unions. While he did not mention Amazon, he referenced “workers in Alabama.”
The move by the Alabama workers, which is being backed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), is a critical one for the U.S. labor movement that has struggled with declining membership in recent years. It is also a watershed moment for a growing unionizing drive within the tech industry that has long been hostile to organized labor.
The congressional delegation includes U.S. Representatives Andy Levin, Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Terri Sewell, and Nikema Williams.
“If they want to organize and unionize, let them do that, because this is America. This is a democracy rooted in labor. Labor built this country,” Bowman said.
Rep. Sewell, whose district includes Bessemer, likened the fight to the civil rights struggles in the area’s past.
“I am proud that the workers here in Bessemer, Alabama, are following in the tradition, the long tradition of Alabamians willing to stand up for what is right, willing to march. And as John Lewis (civil rights icon) would say, peacefully protest their rights,” Sewell said.
Bowman went a step further and urged Amazon workers around the country to pay attention to their working conditions.
The lawmakers also privately met with workers and organizers from the facility.
A spokesperson for Amazon told Reuters they do not believe the RWDSU represents the majority of employees’ views and that Amazon offered better benefits and compensation than other companies with similar jobs.
The vote could also help kickstart a new chapter for the labor movement in the southern states, where unions have long struggled to gain a foothold, according to labor experts.
One of Bessemer, which is about 15 miles (24 km) away from Birmingham, the most populous city in the state, is majority African American – a fact that has also made the fight an important one for several lawmakers.
At several points during the afternoon, lawmakers and union representatives could be heard chanting, “If black lives are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
(Production: Dustin Chambers, Deborah Gembara)
Lawmakers show support for Amazon workers in Alabama seeking to unionize