Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Bessemer Opens the Floodgates: Amazon Workers All Over the Country Are Trying to Unionize

The small percentage of U.S. private-sector workers in unions looks to grow as the effort at the Amazon facility in Alabama opens the floodgates. Workers in Baltimore, New Orleans, Portland, Denver, and Southern California are discussing organizing drives.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

March 20, 2021
Facebook Twitter Share
A person wears a face mask with the words Power to the Workers on it along with a clenched fist.
PHOTO: Bloomberg

Amazon really doesn’t want workers to unionize.

At its warehouses around the country, Amazon hires intelligence analysts to track “labor organizing threats” and spies on employees’ interactions in closed Facebook groups.

In Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon has pulled out all the stops to thwart the unionization effort, including everything from threats of job loss, phone calls to workers, and anti-union meetings during work hours. The company successfully petitioned the city to change the amount of time at red lights near the facility so organizers have less time to talk to workers in their cars. Amazon is paying consultants nearly $10,000 a day to stop the unionization effort.

But the struggle in Bessemer seems to be opening the floodgates. Amazon workers in Baltimore, New Orleans, Portland, Denver, and Southern California have reached out to the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) about unionizing their own warehouses. RWDSU says they have heard from more than 1,000 Amazon workers around the country.

Bessemer isn’t the only Amazon union push going on now. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is pushing to unionize workers at Amazon locations in Grimes and Iowa City, Iowa. The drive’s organizers have spoken to between 400 and 500 Amazon workers in the area, which includes the location of a new 1,000-employee facility in Bondurant that opened last December.

Read more about the connections between the BLM movement and Amazon here. 

The working conditions at Amazon fulfillment centers are nothing short of abhorrent. The company tracks each warehouse worker’s productivity and generates automatic warnings — without any supervisor input — if, for example, someone spends “too long” in the bathroom. Workers find themselves sometimes forced to pee in bottles just to keep their jobs. Workers are allotted only a minimal amount of “time off-task” (TOT) — a period in which they are not mechanically scanning packages. Every move is tracked, and workers who fall below a “productivity threshold” are disciplined or fired. The result of all this is a high serious injury rate in the facilities — 7.7 percent, which is about double the most recent industry average (which is already quite high). 

Amazon is the second-largest  private employer in the United States, and workers have yet to succeed in organizing a union in a single facility. Retaliation is a real threat. Bloomberg News reports, “An employee in Nashville was fired in retaliation for discussing workplace conditions, and another in Illinois was pulled off of a shift ‘to discourage employees from engaging’ in activism, according to complaints filed in February with the National Labor Relations Board.” The company has fired “troublemakers” like Chris Smalls and countless people whose names we don’t know. A  2014 attempt by Amazon technical workers to organize in the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers was thwarted by Amazon’s rigorous anti-union campaign. 

Only 6.3 percent of private-sector employees in the United States are currently unionized. Walmart, the largest U.S. private employer, engages in similar anti-union tactics. Legal and illegal union-busting tactics are commonplace, making the basic right to a union difficult to win. That’s why it’s essential to fight for the PRO Act, as well as even more extensive laws that bar union-busting. 

Even with the drive at Bessemer’s Amazon warehouse opening the floodgates for unionization efforts across the country, we’ve seen all too many unions function as “business unions” in a top-down manner and don’t fight for their workers. That’s why workers need to fight for more than just a union, but for unions run by the rank and file — to make them real fighting tools for the working class.

Unions are essential, and workers know it. Bloomberg reports on a 28-year-old New Orleans Amazon warehouse worker who drove five hours to Bessemer to support the union organizing fight. He told a rally, “If the most powerful company in the world can be unionized in an anti-union state like Alabama, it gives hope to people in Louisiana, in Mississippi, in West Virginia who are trying to do the same thing … We just have to support the fight wherever it’s at because the fight is going to come to us.”

Facebook Twitter Share

Tatiana Cozzarelli

Tatiana is a former middle school teacher and current Urban Education PhD student at CUNY.

Labor Movement

The Higher Ed Labor Movement Runs Full Speed Ahead into 2023

Just thirteen days into the new year, a new set of strikes are already brewing in the higher education labor movement.

Olivia Wood

January 13, 2023
ICU nurse Michelle Gonzales in scrubs and the text "We're ready to strike for Patient Care"

Preparing to Strike: An Interview with a Bronx Nurse

Left Voice spoke with Michelle Gonzalez, an ICU nurse at Montefiore Hospital and NYSNA union Executive Committee member, about the impending nurses’ strike in New York City.

Left Voice

January 8, 2023

NYSNA 2019-2021: From Contract Sellout to Covid Hell

Thousands of nurses in NYC could go on strike in the coming days. After nurses struggled to provide care during the Covid-19 pandemic, this fight could be a chance for nurses to improve working conditions. The nursing union’s past acceptance of toothless contracts helped further exacerbate staffing crises faced during the pandemic. This history is key to developing more militant fights to improve healthcare today.

Mike Pappas

January 5, 2023
n Amazon Prime tractor-trailer carries goods through heavy traffic March 22, 2022 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Journal Entry from an Amazon Worker: New Year’s Eve

An Amazon worker writes about their experience working New Years Eve.


Detroit socialist activist Tristan Taylor at a protest during 2020.

First We Mourn, Then We Organize: A Letter to Weary Black Organizers Who Have Had Enough

Tyre Nichols, and all victims of police brutality, must be mourned. But we can't stop fighting or give in to despair — we have to build an independent political party that clashes with the capitalists physically, politically, and ideologically.

Tristan Taylor

January 29, 2023

In Standoff Over Cop City, Police Are the Real Terrorists

For over two years, the protests and occupations against a police training center in Atlanta, Georgia flew under the radar of the mainstream press. Now, after the police murder of land defender Manuel Teran and the arrest of 19 protesters on charges of domestic terrorism, the standoff has gained national attention. But in the battle to defend the Weelaunee Forest and the people of Atlanta from the development of the massive “Cop City” training center, it is the Atlanta Police Department and the state that have been acting like terrorists.

James Dennis Hoff

January 27, 2023

Say His Name! Justice for Tyre Nichols

As the video footage of the police murder of Tyre Nichols is released today, it will be important for everyone who is against police violence to stand in solidarity and defend and join in the mobilizations demanding justice for his murder.

Tristan Taylor

January 27, 2023

SOUTHCOM Chief Aims to Increase Imperialist Plunder of Latin America’s Resources

U.S. Southern Command Chief Laura Richardson has expressed interest in lithium and other natural resources in South America. It shows the country’s commitment to corporate profits at the expense of workers, Indigenous people, and the environment.

Luigi Morris

January 26, 2023