Exclusive-White House pulled into unionization effort at Amazon facility

Story originally posted by Reuters  Amazon, America’s second-biggest private employer behind Walmart Inc, does not have any union labor in the United States, and workers at its fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, would be the first to join if they vote in favour. The last attempt by Amazon workers to unionize was in 2014. A White House spokeswoman, who declined to comment directly on the Alabama effort, said President Biden supports union organizing and collective bargaining and has urged employers not to run anti-union campaigns or interfere with organizing and bargaining. He has also called for holding employers accountable and increasing penalties when they do, she added. RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum told Reuters the conversation with a top advisor to President Joe Biden took place after the inauguration and focused on their efforts to organize the facility in Alabama. “We wanted to inform the White House that this campaign was taking place and that they would be hearing about it... we did not make any specific request,” Appelbaum said, adding that the Biden advisor was interested in learning more about the situation in Alabama. Appelbaum said labor leaders “connected to the RWDSU” spoke to the White House, but he declined to name who they spoke with. He also said another senior advisor to Biden has been tracking the Alabama effort. “The larger labor movement has indicated to the White House that this is an important campaign, that this is a priority,” Appelbaum said. On Feb. 8, the National Labor Relations Board will mail ballots to 5,805 workers at the facility near Birmingham, who will then have seven weeks to decide whether they want the RWDSU to represent them. The effort to secure White House support by labor leaders underscores the high stakes involved, as Amazon fights its biggest labor battle yet in the United States. A victory for the union could encourage workers attempting to organize at other Amazon facilities. Amazon spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said the company does not “believe the RWDSU represents the majority of our employees’ views.” The company’s employees choose to work at Amazon because “we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs,” she added. Amazon has long avoided unionization, and it has trained managers to spot organizing activity. A website advocating Amazon workers shun unions, doitwithoutdues.com, warned the Bessemer employees, “why pay almost $500 in dues? We’ve got you covered* with high wages, health care, vision, and dental benefits.” The COVID pandemic spurred labor organizing in different parts of the company and the world’s largest online retailer has faced a barrage of criticism over its handling of a coronavirus outbreak at its warehouses and other facilities. Amazon, reporting more than 19,000 COVID-19 cases as of September, has said it increased cleaning, implemented virus tests and temperature checks, and added other measures to protect associates.


(NEW YORK, NY) –  Today, it was announced that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos will be stepping down from his role at the company and will become executive chairman. Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which is conducting a unionization drive for the workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, issued the following statement: “Jeff Bezos' business model for Amazon was feasting on public subsidies, paying little or no taxes and dehumanizing and mistreating his employees. The appropriate legacy for him should be workers coming together in Bessemer, Alabama and organizing a union and creating change in Amazon's model of employee relations. Bezos's model for treating workers must not become the model for the future of work.”


(NEW YORK, NY) – Last week, New York Attorney General Letitia James released a report, which highlighted that two-thirds of nursing home coronavirus fatalities in New York state were in facilities with the lowest or next-to-lowest staffing ratings. The “Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act” introduced earlier this month, will establish minimum standards for nurse-to-patient ratios under penalty of revocation of the facility’s operating license. Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which represents workers at nursing home facilities in New York issued the following statement in support of the bill: “Nursing home workers watch over our loved ones every day; and they must have the time they need to provide the proper care to our mothers, fathers, grandparents and elderly. Without safe staffing levels workers are pulled between patients – which try as they might, doesn’t allow them to give the full care and attention to residents. “The Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act will give our members the time they need to ensure each and every resident has the care they need and deserve. This bill will improve patient and worker safety by establishing staff-to-patient ratios for nurses in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities based on the type of care provided and number of patients. “Data continues to prove that staffing ratios not only save lives but provide significant cost offsets for providers. This legislation will implement mandated ratios so that patients get the care they deserve. Our members who care for our loved ones need the public’s support for safe staffing. We fully support this bill, and we hope it is swiftly enacted into law to help our members.”

Amazon’s anti-union blitz stalks Alabama warehouse workers everywhere, even the bathroom

SEATTLE — Some workers in Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., warehouse complain that the company’s aggressive performance expectations leave them little time to take bathroom breaks. When they do get there, they face messaging from Amazon pressing its case against unionization, imploring them to vote against it when mail-in balloting begins Feb. 8. “Where will your dues go?” reads a flier posted on the door inside a bathroom stall. “They got right in your face when you’re using the stall,” said Darryl Richardson, a worker at the warehouse who supports the union. Another pro-union worker who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution said of Amazon’s toilet reading: “I feel like I’m getting harassed.” The stakes couldn’t be higher for Amazon, which is fighting the biggest labor battle in its history on U.S. soil. Next Monday, the National Labor Relations Board will mail ballots to 5,805 workers at the facility near Birmingham, who will then have seven weeks to decide whether they want the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to represent them. If they vote yes, they would be the first Amazon warehouse in the United States to unionize. Read the rest here at Washington Post 

Amazon Warehouse Workers In Alabama Push To Unionize

NPR’s Here & Now (listen to it here) Amazon employees in Alabama will soon vote on whether to form the first union of U.S. warehouse workers at the company. And according to organizers, more than half of the facility's employees have already indicated they want a union shop. The National Labor Relations Board set up the election after hearing from those workers over the summer. Amazon has historically resisted unionization — at least two past union drives at the company have failed. But organizers think this time may be different. Here & Now's Tonya Mosley speaks with Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). This segment aired on January 28, 2021.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 28, 2021 Contact: Chelsea Connor | [email protected] | 347-866-6259   GAINESVILLE POULTRY PLANT CHEMICAL LEAK STATEMENT  FROM RWDSU PRESIDENT STUART APPELBAUM  (NEW YORK, NY) – Today, sadly six workers lost their lives in a chemical leak of liquid nitrogen at one of the many non-union poultry facilities in Gainesville, Georgia. Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which represents over 15,000 poultry workers at facilities across the southern United States issued the following statement: “It is a complete and utter tragedy that six workers at a poultry facility in Gainesville, Georgia will never be returning home to their families after the nitrogen leak today.  “The health and safety of workers must be a top priority at poultry plants, the same plants that are providing essential food on dinner tables in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Had simple safety protocols been followed today workers lives wouldn’t have been on the line. The egregious, lack of standards at non-union facilities like the one in Gainesville cost essential workers their lives today.  “We cannot allow this to continue to happen. Workers' lives are not disposable.  “We stand with the workers at this facility and countless others who need worker-led health and safety committees, to prevent needless injuries, or as we tragically saw today deaths.” # # # The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) represents 100,000 members throughout the United States. The RWDSU is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). For more information, please visit our website at www.rwdsu.org, Facebook:/RWDSU.UFCW Twitter:@RWDSU.

RWDSU COVID-19 Vaccine Fact Sheet

RWDSU members - many of whom are frontline workers helping to take care of people during the COVID-19 pandemic - are among those being vaccinated against the disease.  The RWDSU has prepared a new fact sheet answering questions members may have about the safety and effectiveness of the new vaccines.  Read the fact sheet in English Read the fact sheet in Spanish

NY Times: Amazon Union Drive Takes Hold in Unlikely Place

By, Michael Corkery and Karen Weise Link to full story: http://nyti.ms/2MjJ6OI Workers at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., are to vote next month on whether to unionize, the largest and most viable effort of its kind involving the technology giant. The largest, most viable effort to unionize Amazon in many years began last summer not in a union stronghold like New York or Michigan, but at a Fairfield Inn outside of Birmingham, in the right-to-work state of Alabama. It was late in the summer and a group of employees from a nearby Amazon warehouse contacted an organizer in the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. They were fed up, they said, with the way the online retailer tracked their productivity, and wanted to discuss unionizing. As the workers arrived at the hotel, union officials watched the parking lot to make sure they had not been followed. Since that clandestine meeting, the unionizing campaign at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., has moved faster and further than just about anyone has expected. By late December, more than 2,000 workers signed cards indicating they wanted an election, the union said The National Labor Relations Board then determined there was “sufficient” interest in a union election among the warehouse’s roughly 5,800 workers, which is a significant bar to hit with the government agency that oversees the voting process. About a week ago, the board announced that voting by mail would start next month and continue through the end of March. Just getting to an election is an achievement for unions, which have failed for years to break into Amazon. But persuading the workers to actually vote for a union is a bigger challenge. The company has begun to counter organizing efforts by arguing that a union would saddle workers with dues without any guarantee of higher wages or better benefits. This will be the first union election involving the company in the United States since a small group of technical workers at a warehouse in Delaware voted against forming a union in 2014. Much has changed since that vote seven years ago that has allowed organized labor to make inroads with Amazon employees in a place like Alabama. Most of that change had come in the past year during the pandemic, as workers from meatpacking plants to grocery stores have spoken out, often through their unions, about the lack of protective gear or inadequate pay. The retail union has pointed to its success representing workers during the pandemic as a selling point in Bessemer. “The pandemic changed the way many people feel about their employers,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the retail union’s president. “Many workers see the benefit of having a collective voice.” Union organizers are also building their campaign around the themes of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many of the employees at the Amazon warehouse are Black, a fact that the retail union has used to focus on issues of racial equality and empowerment. And leading the organizing effort are about two dozen unionized workers from nearby warehouses and poultry plants, most of whom are also Black. Since Oct. 20, the poultry workers have been standing outside the Amazon gates every day starting at 4:30 a.m., urging workers stopped at a traffic light to join a union. “I am telling them they are part of a movement that is world wide,” said Michael Foster, a Black organizer in Bessemer, who works in a poultry plant “I want them to know that we are important and we do matter.” Unions have been forming in other unlikely places this year. This month, more than 400 engineers and other workers at Google formed a union, a rare move in the mostly anti-union tech industry. The Google union is meant primarily to bolster employee activism, while the union being proposed at Amazon in Bessemer would eventually be able to negotiate a contract and would seek to influence wages and working conditions. The unionization effort comes as Amazon has embarked on a hiring spree during the pandemic. Amazon now has more than 1.2 million employees globally, up more than 50 percent from a year earlier. But the company has also begun to face pressure from its corporate employees, over climate change and other issues, and from many warehouse workers around the country who have felt emboldened to speak up. The attention is only likely to increase with Amazon on pace to surpass Walmart as the country’s largest employer in a few years. Success at the Bessemer warehouse, which only opened in March, could inspire workers in the booming e-commerce industry more broadly, said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “If you can do it in Alabama, we can do it here in Southern California for sure,” he said. “It would have a huge ripple effect.” In a statement, Heather Knox, an Amazon spokeswoman, said the company did not believe that the union “represents the majority of our employees’ views,” adding, “Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.” The company created a website that suggests that the union’s dues — which could total about $9.25 a week for a full-time employee — will leave workers with less money to pay for school supplies. “Why not save the money and get the books, gifts and things you want?” the website says. An early version of the website included photos of happy-looking young workers, including the image of a Black man leaping in the air that appeared to be from a free stock photo website. On the site the man and a woman are pictured in an image labeled “excited african-american couple jumping, having fun.” Asked about the site, Amazon called it “educational” and said it “helps employees understand the facts of joining a union.” (As of last Tuesday evening, the company had removed the stock photos including that of the leaping man.) Race has often been at the heart of unionizing campaigns in the South. A century ago, multiracial steel and coal miners unions around Birmingham were a “cockpit of labor militancy,” Mr. Lichtenstein said. In the 1960s, unions — including the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union — gave Black workers a venue to assert their civil rights and gain more equality in the workplace. Organizing was dangerous work. A Black organizer with the retail union in Alabama named Henry Jenkins recalled being shot at and receiving death threats at his home. At one point, a bomb was found in his car outside a church in Selma. Mr. Jenkins died in November 2011 after an illness. The retail union has been influential in the Northeast, where it represents workers at Macy’s and Bloomingdales. But its strength has also grown in the South, particularly in poultry, an industry with traditionally dangerous jobs and a work force that with many Black employees. This spring, the union was active in publicizing deadly virus outbreaks in poultry plants. The union’s mid-South Council president, Randy Hadley, called out the industry for “egregious inaction” in providing basic protections for workers. Buoyed by its rising profile during the pandemic, the union trained a group of workers to start organizing additional poultry facilities across the South. When the Amazon workers reached out, the union, which had failed to gain traction at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island two years earlier, decided to redirect the poultry workers to the Bessemer warehouse. Unlike in past campaigns, the union decided it would keep mostly quiet during the Alabama organizing drive. “Some people do not expect us to succeed,” said Josh Brewer, who is leading the organizing effort. “I believe we can do it.” On the evening of Oct. 20, two dozen poultry and warehouse workers showed up outside the Amazon gates. Mona Darby, who has spent the past 33 years processing chickens, immediately started approaching the Amazon workers in their cars as they headed home. Ms. Darby grew up in Alabama, one of 18 children. She started working as a housekeeper for local doctors and lawyers when she was 15. But she wanted more stable work, health care and retirement benefits so she got a job in a chicken plant. Today, the starting wages in Alabama’s unionized poultry plants are about the same as those at Amazon. (The average hourly wage at the Bessemer warehouse is $15.30). But Ms. Darby said the union provided her with protections and job security that other jobs lack. “You can pay me $25 an hour, but if you don’t treat me well what’s that money worth?” she said. On that first evening at the Bessemer warehouse, Ms. Darby said a white man approached her and said Amazon didn’t want a union and he didn’t want her “Black ass on our property.” “You are going to see my Black ass out here all day, every day,” Ms. Darby said she responded. Ms. Darby said she saw the man remove his name badge before he walked up to her. She told a police officer present what the man said, but he didn’t take notes. The Bessemer police said they had no record of the incident. Amazon declined to comment. On Dec. 18, lawyers for Amazon and the union gathered on Zoom to discuss how many workers would be part of the potential union. The hearing dragged on for days, as Amazon’s lawyer asked questions in minute detail about the warehouse, until the federal hearing officer eventually cut the testimony short. One issue Amazon has insisted on is that the election be held in person at the warehouse. The company even offered to rent out hotel rooms for the federal election monitors to help them isolate from contracting the virus in an area with an infection rate of 17 percent. The N.L.R.B. ruled against in-person voting on Jan. 15, stating that a company paying for hotel rooms for government employees was not a good idea. On Friday, Amazon asked for a stay of the mail-in election, arguing that infection rates were declining and insisting that voting should take place at the warehouse. Until all the votes are cast, Mr. Foster and the other poultry and warehouse workers are planning to stay outside the Amazon gates. He said some of the Amazon workers were fearful of being seen talking to the organizers at the stop light. On a few occasions, Mr. Foster has said a prayer with workers before the light changes to green. “We want to show them we are not leaving them until this is done,” he said.


(NEW YORK, NY) –  Today, following the launch of its NYC Policy Platform, RWDSU: Strong Values, Strong Communities, at a forum attended by 140 candidates last month, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced its endorsements of five strong women candidates running for seats in the New York City Council in 2021.  Carmen De La Rosa (District 10)  Pierina Sanchez (District 14)  Amanda Farias (District 18)  Tiffany Cabán (District 22)  Briget Rein (District 39)  “The RWDSU is excited to support this exceptional group of candidates. New York City is hurting and more than ever, we need elected officials who will stand up and fight for workers and their families. Each of these candidates is deeply committed to taking up this challenge of advocating for those who need it most during this crisis. “Each of these candidates represents the future of New York City. Increasing transparency in procurement, reforming land-use, regulating e-commerce, and creating good union jobs when the city spends money rest at the heart of our city’s economic recovery and creating a more equitable future. The RWDSU knows that these candidates stand with us on these important issues. For this reason, they have our support,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).  The RWDSU is committed to supporting candidates in 2021 who will stand up for workers, support good union jobs and represent it’s 45,000 members in the city. The union will be making additional endorsements in key races. 

Apply for the 2021 RWDSU Scholarship!

The 2021 RWDSU Al Heaps Scholarship application is now live. The RWDSU Alvin E. Heaps scholarship is given annually to RWDSU members or members of an RWDSU family, and rewards good grades and a demonstrated understanding of the role of unions in workers’ lives. The Scholarship honors the legacy of former RWDSU President Alvin E. Heaps (1919-1986). The next scholarship has a submission deadline of May 31, 2021. Download and print the scholarship application here! And, don't forget to check out Union Plus scholarship programs. RWDSU members are eligible for Union Plus benefits.