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Alabama Amazon warehouse workers speak out on union showdown: "Time for us to make a stand"

Labor showdown between Amazon, Alabama workers
Amazon employees in Alabama vote on joining union after sharing work conditions concerns 03:56

Hundreds of thousands of Amazon employees nationwide are watching one of the most significant unionization drives in a generation. Workers at an Amazon warehouse near Birmingham, Alabama are voting on whether to join a retail workers union, and their colleagues around the country are wondering how that will affect them.

In two 12-hour shifts a day, about 5,800 workers at the Bessemer Amazon Fulfillment Center sort, package and ship boxes. They make at least $15 dollars per hour, more than twice the minimum wage. However, some of them told CBS News the company refuses to hear their complaints and frustrations.

"Amazon is treating the people disrespectful," union organizer Michael Foster told CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann. "They're basically telling the people, if you don't want to abide by the way we work, you can go find another job somewhere else."

Foster had been outside the Alabama warehouse during a shift change, where he had been campaigning for votes since October. 

According to the union, roughly 85% of the workers at the facility are Black. Most are women. Many complain about grueling work, unsafe conditions and inadequate bathroom and meal breaks. 

"We're being treated like we're prisoners who're there to get a job done," said Jennifer Bates, a warehouse employee.

Her colleague Daryl Richardson said his biggest frustrations were "job security" and "respect and safety, wellbeing," adding: "It is time for us to make a stand. It's time for some changes."

"What the community doesn't realize is what goes on behind the curtain," Bates said. "What are the people going through just to make sure we get our packages?"

Frustrated workers contacted the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union. 

Their push is supported by celebrities like Danny Glover.

"We need you to vote 'Yes.' You carry on the spirit and tradition in Alabama that has fought against so many obstacles," the actor said.

President Joe Biden also weighed in with a two-minute video message, stating that "Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union."

But Amazon is fighting the union drive in Alabama — a right-to-work state.

In a statement, the company told CBS News, "If the union vote passes, it will impact everyone at the site and it's important associates understand what that means for them and their day-to-day life working at Amazon."

Amazon workers Dawn Hoag said she will vote no.

"I have yet to personally encounter anyone who is pro-union," Hoag said. "I do not see a point in paying somebody to do something I am fully capable to do for myself — and that being advocating."

But the union believes these workers need a voice, and that they'll deliver the votes despite long odds.

"If you put enough heart in anything that you do, you can do anything… even in Alabama," Michael Foster said. "We have not been able to organize in Alabama as we wish we could, but things are meant to change."

Voting is currently underway by mail, and will end on March 29. The union believes the vote will be close, and whichever side wins, the loser is likely to challenge the outcome.

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