Amazon Executive Fires Back At US Senator Visit To Alabama Workers

Amazon’s annoyance over a vote for a trade union at an Amazon warehouse in the United States, has been highlighted this week in a series of tweets.

A top Amazon official, namely Dave Clark, the chief executive of Amazon’s worldwide consumer business, took to Twitter after left wing US Senator Bernie Sanders announced he would meet the company’s workers in Alabama on Friday, who are voting on whether to form a trade union.

In December it emerged staff at the Amazon fullfilment centre in Bessemer (Alabama) were being asked whether they should unionise and join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The organising committee had conducted a social media campaign, shared union authorisation cards and collected enough to hold the election.

Image credit: Amazon

Political support or interference?

Amazon had already appealed against a ruling by a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) officer to permit 5,800 employees at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, to begin casting ballots by mail to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

The vote at the Alabama facility began on 8 February and runs through 29 March.

If successful, Amazon workers at the BHM1 warehouse in Bessemer would be Amazon’s first warehouse in the United States to unionise.

The vote is being supported from prominent Democrats including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as well as Stacey Abrams.

Earlier this month US President Joe Biden gave his support for the workers, and while he didn’t mention Amazon by name, he referred to the workers in Alabama trying to form a union.

Bernie Sanders then announced on Twitter this week he would visit the Amazon workers on Friday in Bessemer, but it is not certain if he will be permitted to visit the Amazon site itself.

“I look forward to meeting with Amazon workers in Alabama on Friday,” the Senator tweeted. “All I want to know is why the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, is spending millions trying to prevent workers from organising a union so they can negotiate for better wages, benefits and working conditions.”

Finger wagging lecture

This prompted an irate response from the senior Amazon executive Dave Clark.

“All we want to know is why the Sen is one of the most powerful pols in VT for 30+ yrs and their min wage is STILL only $11.75.AMZN’s min wage is $15 + great health care from Day 1,” Clark tweeted in response. “The Sen should save his finger wagging lecture until after he actually delivers in his own backyard.”

He then went on to add that he would welcome the Senator “to Birmingham and appreciate his push for a progressive workplace. I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace.”

“for our constituents: a $15 minimum wage, health care from day one, career progression, and a safe and inclusive work environment,” he added.

“So if you want to hear about $15 an hour and health care, Senator Sanders will be speaking downtown,” said Amazon’s Clark. “But if you would like to make at least $15 an hour and have good health care, Amazon is hiring.”

Sanders is a big supporter of a $15 an hour minimum wage – a rate Amazon already pays its workers.

And Sanders is not the first politician to visit the facility. Earlier this month, a group of US lawmakers visited the Alabama warehouse to lend their support.

Union opposition

Amazon is second-largest private employer in the United States (with 800,000 US staff), behind Walmart, but it reportedly launched an anti-union website targeted at its warehouse workers in Alabama, emphasising union dues to try to dissuade workers from unionising.

Indeed, it is fair to say the e-commerce giant has resisted staff joining unions in the Untied States, and has told workers it already offers the pay and benefits that unions promise.

It has also reportedly trained managers to spot organising activity.

In September 2020 Amazon landed itself in hot water over two job adverts for “intelligence analysts”, who would be responsible for reporting on activities “including labour organising threats against the company.”

Amazon however said the adverts were badly worded and withdrew the adverts, but credence was added to the suspicion it was hiring people to spy on trade unions as the job listings cited previous experience desired for the role, which said “an officer in the intelligence community, the military, law enforcement, or a related global security role in the private sector.”

In October 2020 Amazon said it would respect the rights of workers to join a trade union, after media reports suggested it planned to tracking union activity in its workforce.

Amazon has also previously experienced trade union disruption in France and Germany.

In February 2019, Amazon cancelled plans to build one of its second headquarters in New York, after the e-commerce giant encountered unexpected local opposition to its plans, partly down to its opposing unionisation.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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