August 6, 2022

Union: Bessemer Amazon supervisor warned organizer not to talk to employees; unfair labor practice complaint filed

A Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union worker organizer working at Amazon’s Bessemer fulfillment center said a supervisor warned him not to tell other employees about the union.

According to a document filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the incident may violate a settlement Amazon reached last month giving workers more leeway to conduct union activities inside warehouses.

The company and the union are gearing up for another mail-in election on union representation. Ballots will begin mailing to workers on February 4 and must be mailed back by March 25. The counting of votes begins on March 28. The question is again whether the workers can be represented by the RWDSU.

According to the union, 6,143 workers will be eligible to vote in the next election, about 350 less than in last year’s election. The union estimates that just over half of the current workforce was employed at the center during the 2021 election. Around 3,000 people participated in the previous elections, in which Workers Against Unions voted garnered about 1,000 more votes than those who wanted it.

NLRB Region 10 Director Lisa Henderson ruled in November that Amazon showed “flagrant disregard” for mail-in voting by setting up a mailbox on the Bessemer campus, making it impossible to ” free and fair election”.

Isaiah Thomas, 20, a criminal justice student at UAB, serves on Bessemer’s labor organizing committee. He filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board after receiving a letter from management informing him that while he could approach the union during his break time, he was “interfering with his colleagues during their working hours, in their work areas. ”

“Nothing in Amazon’s solicitation policy prevents you, as an Associate, from engaging in solicitation in non-business areas or while you and the Associates you solicit are both off duty. work,” the letter to Thomas reads. “Non-working areas include, but are not limited to the site parking lot and rest rooms.”

Thomas said he was “watched” in the warehouse, “watching to see if I was having conversations with my coworkers.” He said the surveillance cases came after he and other employees challenged what he said was anti-union information given at mandatory employee meetings. Amazon did not immediately comment on the allegations.

“There’s just no kind of respect for us as workers or as human beings,” Thomas said. “It’s like we’re slaves to their profits.”

Some workers at the center engaged in shows of support for the union, such as wearing union solidarity T-shirts two days a week – Tuesday and Friday, said Kristina Bell, a stevedore worker. Bell, a Bessemer native, said the prospect of another vote has energized people in the community.

Another reason for the interest in the union, she said, is that workers who participated in previous elections saw a change in leadership before and after the vote.

“When the first election came around, they were more relaxed about your time,” she said. “You would have these public relations (people) who would come in and say, ‘Hey, how are you?’ After the election is over, I said all the glitz and glamor is gone They’re taking your time off, and now they’re asking you about the numbers you’re producing Now the election is here, but there’s has a difference when they are passed.

Reyn McGuire, who works as a picker, is originally from New York and a mother of three. She said she supported the union because of the working conditions in the warehouse. The pace of work means employees sometimes fall asleep on the toilet, she said, while time allocated for breaks is easily used to walk around the distribution center complex to break rooms or to his car.

She said Amazon behaved “tyrannically” and tried to convince workers that they were more than “statistics on paper.”

“To be someone who works as hard as I do, and as I see it at this establishment, and everybody kicks ass,” McGuire said. “And not having breaks, and not having time to be on the phone or even to go to the bathroom is very disrespectful. It’s very humiliating as a human being.

Thomas said the high turnover of employees at Bessemer means any labor organization “is never going to be easy.” But he is encouraged by the number of employees who are interested in the union.

This post was edited at 2:51 p.m. on January 25 to clarify that Isaiah Thomas is not a union staff member but an Amazon employee.