Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Rep. Andy Levin on Amazon: ‘This is the biggest union election in this century’

On Friday, Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) led a delegation of members of Congress to Bessemer, Alabama, where workers at an Amazon warehouse are striving to become the first unionized facility managed by the e-commerce giant anywhere in the country.

David Dayen: Tell me what the mood was like from workers at the Alabama facility?

Andy Levin: So on the one hand, the mood was upbeat. Even to some extent euphoric. But also kind of somber and determined. This is no joking matter, to go up against Amazon in 2021. The pressure these workers are under is unbelievable. It’s why they’re trying to form a union.

When I organized workers directly for SEIU, there were all manner of tactics the boss used. But no one felt like they were under surveillance every second on the job. These are measurements for every second these workers are away from their station. And if they’re away too long they’re fired. A lot of times there’s no supervisor involved [with that monitoring], it’s all digitized. To talk to HR you have to send an email through the system and maybe someone talks to you. I organized workers at nursing homes and they would say directly to their bosses, “How can you do this to me?” Now these people are working in this 16-football-field facility, where packages zoom in and they process them.

So there’s a lack of a presence from the company to confront.

Yeah. And then once the drive starts, the company brought in hundreds of people, supervisors, union-busting consultants, to confront the workers on a minute-by-minute basis. These workers, they get two half-hour breaks on a ten-hour shift. It takes ten minutes to walk to the break room and ten minutes back. So you have ten minutes to eat or do whatever. They’re told that every second is important. And now they’re pulled off their shifts for hours to go to an anti-union propaganda session? What is that?

We’ve all heard about Amazon pulling out all the stops to beat this vote, but could you feel it in talking to the workers and seeing what was going on at the facility?

Absolutely. There’s this one worker, when she first came into the union hall, we were chatting before having a more structured discussion. So I said something anodyne, like “How’s it going.” And she just took this big sigh, and said, “I just try to not talk to them anymore. Just try to stay away from them because of all the pressure.” Then in the meeting when she spoke, she’s going to nursing school. And she’s almost done. She could quit, but she said she won’t because she’s going to stick with the other workers.

The other thing that’s so obvious about the situation, this is an 80 to 90 percent African American workforce, in Alabama. And this company is treating people the way they do. The whole Black Lives Matter element of it was so strong. [Continue reading…]

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