We spoke with Mindy Isser, union member, writer, and member of the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission (DSLC), about the upcoming union vote at the Amazon Warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.
Happy GM week from everyone at the Philly DSA Bulletin! We decided to do something different (again!) this week as everyone prepares their Zoom outfits for Sunday’s General Meeting. We spoke with Mindy Isser, union member, writer, and member of the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission (DSLC), about the upcoming union vote at the Amazon Warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Mindy, we are less than two weeks out from the tallying of votes for the Amazon Union in Bessemer. 5,800 warehouse workers have until March 29 to cast their votes on whether or not to form a union. Where are we with the ongoing voter push?
MI: According to Dave Jamieson, the labor reporter at the Huffington Post, RWDSU got over 3,000 union authorization cards signed before the election began. That's barely a majority, which isn't ideal, but at the same time, you only need to win by a single vote. For mail in ballot elections, voter participation can be quite low, which is a good thing for the union — people who are ambivalent won't be bothered to vote, and the union should have a fairly sophisticated GOTV program that makes sure their yes votes get in the mail.
Turnover also plays a big role in this, and in my opinion makes the outcome less predictable. Just because someone signed a card indicating their support for the union in November doesn't mean they're still feeling that way in March. In those few months, they were exposed to a vicious anti union campaign, and who knows what they were hearing from family, friends, and coworkers. The union cannot assume that their support for the union remains the same week to week. I like to think of it as that boardwalk game whac-a-mole. It's just never-ending, and if it's not one thing, it's something else!
During the Covid-19 Pandemic, Amazon added 425,000 jobs globally bringing the total employees to 1.2 million. This number of course, doesn’t include the 500,000 delivery drivers who are third party contractors. But since the Bessemer push became public, NPR reported Amazon workers across the country are reaching out to the Retail, Department Store, and Wholesale Union about starting their own union drives. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos’ personal value rose by $24 billion over four months—what would it mean for a company this large to start to unionize?
MI: It can't be overstated how important and groundbreaking it would be for Amazon workers to organize. The logistics sector is also a very strategic sector for workers to organize in, as they exist smack in the middle between manufacturers and customers, and buying things makes the world go round.
Unions do so much obviously, but they also give workers a voice in the workplace and the opportunity to practice democracy, they teach workers what solidarity is and how to fight, and they exist as a sort of stop gap between the worst and most egregious aspects of our society, like Jeff Bezos' obscene wealth. Ultimately, they take power away from the boss and keep it for the workers. Bosses know how transformative and powerful unions can be, and how different our economy would look if more workers were union members.
If they’re able to win their election, Amazon absolutely will challenge the results, for a variety of made up reasons that only serve to delay recognizing the union. Once the union is finally recognized (which could take months!), Amazon will drag their feet bargaining. Half of all workers who form unions never make it to a first contract which makes it almost impossible to hold employers accountable in bargaining. If workers don’t remember the union struggle because they weren’t part of it and also aren’t benefiting from the union (no contract) it’s easier for the employer to undermine the union and sow division. There’s also a chance that Amazon closes this warehouse within a year or two, effectively telling these workers and all other Amazon workers around the country that if they vote union yes they can kiss their jobs goodbye. I'm not trying to sound doom and gloom — these workers winning will be incredible — but I just want to show how much they are up against, and how much all workers are up against.
But what about those drivers? Where does something like the PRO Act fit into all this?
MI: The PRO Act will honestly revolutionize the way union organizing functions in this country. Most of the issues I named above — the anti-union campaign, hiring union busters, dragging their feet on a first contract — are directly addressed by the PRO Act. The PRO Act prohibits employers from forcing workers to attend captive audience meetings, it requires the NLRB to go to court and get an injunction to immediately reinstate illegally fired workers, and it allows employers who violate the law to face civil penalties (and corporate officials can be held personally liable). It also makes employee misclassification a violation under the NLRA and requires employers to follow an ABC test to make sure workers are not misclassified as independent contractors. This would be a gamechanger for Amazon drivers, who are currently "independent contractors".
Under the PRO Act, this would surely change — allowing these workers the right to unionize, just like their counterparts in distribution centers. It's also important that the PRO Act would essentially overturn right to work (for less) laws. This would obviously be a gamechanger for the workers in Alabama who are organizing.
Joe Biden has endorsed passing the PRO Act and voiced his support for the Union drive, both of which are huge. Prediction time: are the workers in Bessemer going to win a union? And what can Philly DSA members do to make sure we do?
MI: I don’t have the chutzpah to make a prediction about something as important as this, but I will say that I won’t be surprised no matter what happens. But, these are the mighty mighty workers we're talking about! Working people are the only ones able to change our own conditions, and they/we have done so countless times before, even with the looming threat of lost income, eviction or foreclosure, and sometimes violence and even death. There's a whole long history of struggle in the area too that can be harnessed as both an inspiration to these workers and as a testament to what's possible and what’s to come in this election.
If Philly DSAers want to support these workers, they can do two things. One, show up to the solidarity action on Saturday March 20, at 2 PM at the headquarters of Morgan Lewis at 17th and Market. Morgan Lewis is a union-busting law firm that Amazon is working with on their anti-union campaign.
Two, get involved in the fight for the PRO Act! Whether these workers win or lose, there's a huge fight ahead — both for them and any other worker who wants to form a union or bargain a first contract. We will be phonebanking people in states with Senators who haven't yet pledged their support for the legislation. Sign up here for a shift, and also stay tuned for a local event!
The Philadelphia Inquirer profiled essential workers for the one year anniversary of the Pandemic.
Our GM speaker Paul Prescod wrote about the American Rescue Plan Act, which includes crucial pension relief for millions of workers, the fruit of tireless organizing by retired Teamsters
Join us this Saturday March 20 at the headquarters of Morgan Lewis at 17th and Market to protest their anti-union campaigns
Sign up for a shift phone banking Senators for the PRO Act here!
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