“Its All Hush Hush Now”: Postmortem With a Bessemer Amazon Worker

Left Voice spoke with a Bessemer Amazon worker to discuss the defeat of the union and the possibilities going forward.
  • Left Voice | 
  • April 14, 2021
Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Left Voice spoke with a Bessemer Amazon worker to discuss the defeat of the union and the possibilities going forward. This person wishes to remain anonymous. We had previously spoken to them about the conditions at Amazon.

[Name redacted], it’s great to talk with you again. Last time we talked, it was a few days before the end of the vote for the Amazon union. We were eager to find out the results and hoping for a yes. So, from your perspective, what happened?!

Apparently, according to what my fiancé told me, the union didn’t win, Amazon won.

Have folks been talking about it at the warehouse?

I haven’t really heard anybody taking about it. It’s kind like an awkward silence. It feels in the air like some people wanted the union to win. Then there is the other people there who didn’t want it to win. And then it’s just like, the air is really awkward there.

It’s been hush-hush now. We haven’t heard anything else about it. That’s the crazy part. They got what they wanted, and now there is nothing else. But beforehand the whole deal with the union, we were going to classes and we were hearing this, that, and the third. And now silence. Just radio silence, nothing.

Left Voice is hosting a panel with Bessemer Amazon worker and Black liberation activist Frances Wallace and Robin D.G. Kelly, author of Hammer and Hoe to discuss the results of the unionization vote. Sign up and RSVP to the Facebook event.

What’s your feeling about it?

It doesn’t make sense why so many people didn’t vote. I really don’t understand them. But I guarantee you, those people that voted no are the supervisors and people well taken care of in the building. The people being looked out for and not having any problems.

Why do you think people voted no on the union?

There was probably a small percentage of them that Amazon actually got to with the classes and everything. Oh, Amazon’s offering this and Amazon is offering that. There are people that they got with that whole propaganda, but the rest, I think were supervisors or employees that are well taken care of at work.

I’m kind of a little disappointed because I feel like there was a little opening for radical change at Amazon. I was reading reviews before I started work, and there’s just so many people just talking about all this stuff that has gone down there, and it’s this ridiculously outrageous stuff that should not happening in a workplace. Just crazy stuff.

Do you feel the union election was fair?

Kinda sorta in a way. Because we were right there in their presence within the facility, they were able to corral us into these rooms and get a chance to thoroughly tell everybody about what they’re offering without the union getting to talk to these people.

That’s the other thing that I feel like wasn’t right, is that they kept pounding in our heads, don’t support the union stuff. And then they kept texting us every single day, and I bet some people voted just whatever so that they could just stop getting bombarded with this stuff.

I will say one thing I don’t agree on is, the union is out there, outside the warehouse, and they were open for us to come to them versus being there on site. Amazon came in, and they forced us to go to class and the action. We didn’t have an option. I was annoyed because I did not want to go to this class.

You preprogram these people who are standing outside as the bad guy. And they haven’t even heard what those people have to say.

What do you think about the mailbox fiasco?

The mailbox? Oh, you’re talking about the on-site mailbox. What happened with that?

The federal government, through the National Labor Relations Board, told Amazon, you cannot put a mailbox site. What does Amazon do? They contact the postal service in Bessemer and demand that they install a mailbox on site — directly against the directive of the NLRB.

Wow. I didn’t even know that. Wow. That really goes to show how dedicated Amazon is to trying to keep things the way they are. I hadn’t even known anything about it. Wow.

I didn’t put my ballot in that mailbox. I put it in my own mailbox at my house. I didn’t think about it in that way, but just something just told me something told me there is something weird that they put up a mailbox.

Because they [supervisors] most definitely kept telling us about the mailbox on site. “There is a mailbox on site. There is a mailbox on site.” And it was like, OK, I got it. Why are you pushing this with the whole mailbox thing? They pushed it really hard with the mailbox.

So it makes you wonder, did some of those ballots disappear? What happened? And if that wasn’t authorized, it makes you wonder what else did they do that wasn’t within regulations, right?

Do you feel like the union could have organized it better?

The union did really pretty OK. As far as passing out information, advertisement, and so forth. Like they, they came pretty hard. They’re out there every night on the curb, you know, with the signs and stuff and their pamphlets. They came with it.

I really feel like everybody should use their own judgment and see both sides and not just what our employer is feeding us. They don’t even know the other side of the story about what’s being said as far as the union. They gave us a little bit of information. We don’t even know if their information is completely true or not. All we know is what they say to us.

At the end it was kind of odd because they started showing us some of the deals that the union had made with other companies, but it was from a lot of previous years. Like one was from 2012. I was like, OK, can we see some recent stuff? It was showing union negotiations where the pay was settled at like $7 and some change. It was a lot of monetary figures. I wish I could remember thoroughly everything that was shown to us. ’Cause they just bombarded us with so much information.

You all may be able to vote again for the union because Amazon violated the rules so much. What do you think will happen if there is a second vote?

I feel like if we get a second chance, the union will actually win this time because if the government gets really, really involved, like I have a feeling they will, they’re going to make sure that everything is completely fair. And then everything is on a level playing field and no mailboxes or anything like that.

What would it look like in your opinion for it to be fair?

All the votes being counted, and nothing like the whole mailbox thing. And the union being allowed on the premises and speak to us. I don’t know how to describe how it would look.

But I don’t think it was fair that the union had to just be out there on the curb open to the elements or whatever versus we’re inside and Amazon, could take us into a classroom. ’Cause I know when one day they weren’t outside because it was storming and pouring down raining, but we were still able to have an anti-union meeting while the union people had to be at home and not advertise themselves that day because of their lack of accommodation.

Were people scared to talk to the union?

I’m sure there were more than a handful of people who were feeling that way. Like they didn’t want to be seen and you have some of our coworkers who are snitches, hate to use that word, but they’re snitches so they can get in the good graces of our management and receive some other perks that they are seeing some of their peers receiving. And who knows what kind of backlash would have resulted from that.

Did you ever talk to any of the union people?

I talked here and there when I could. I was just so overwhelmed with it because Amazon was bombarding us every single day. One day this lady, she was so nice and she reached out and sent me this sweet text message and I completely forgot to respond. I was actually interested in hearing what she was trying to talk to me about, but Amazon had already overloaded for the day. And I was just like, no union stuff. Plus, I had to look after my kids and I completely forgot.

What would you say to your coworkers? What would you say to those who voted yes and those who voted no?

For those who votes yes, I would say, “You did the right thing.”

So the ones that voted no because they were overloaded with information and Amazon got to them first, I wouldn’t really have too much to say to them except, well, next time vote yes.

The ones that voted no because they are being taken care of and are under the wing of management, I have nothing to say to them.

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