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Bernie Sanders visits Alabama in boost to Amazon workers' union effort

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

Senator Bernie Sanders visited Amazon workers at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, on Friday and said their "historic" effort to unionize will spark pro-labor movements across America.

"If you pull this off here, believe me, workers all over this country are going to be saying 'if these people in Alabama could take on the wealthiest guy in the world, we can do it as well'," the Vermont senator said.

The nearly 6,000 employees at the Amazon warehouse outside of Birmingham are in the process of voting to form a union with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which represents more than 15 million workers. 

Employees at the Bessemer warehouse have raised concerns about the lack of time for bathroom and lunch breaks, inadequate benefits and grueling work hours.

Linda Burns said she only gets a five-minute break to use the restroom — the time she said it takes just to walk from her station at the football-field-sized warehouse to the bathroom. Burns said she'll get penalized and referred to the Human Resources department if she takes too long walking back to her station.

"I am tired, but I am going to keep pushing. I am not giving up. I am going to fight for my rights," Burns said.

Rapper and Activist Killer Mike, who campaigned with Sanders in 2020, also visited the Bessemer warehouse on Friday and likened employees' working conditions to "slave labor."

"I want their vote to go through but if it doesn't, I won't be ordering from Amazon again," he said.

Sanders, who has long supported union efforts and criticized corporate power, called the workers "courageous" for highlighting unfair treatments at one the largest corporations in the world.

"The reason that Amazon is putting so much energy to try to defeat you is they know that if you succeed here, it will spread all over this country," Sanders said. 

He added, "When you go against one of the largest corporations in the world and you do it alone, you have no power. But when you stand together in solidarity with each other, you can negotiate for a better workday." 

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CBS News regarding Friday's visit by Sanders. The company has previously said that it does not believe the majority of its workers want to unionize.

Ahead of the event, Amazon feuded with Sanders on Twitter, saying he's been a "powerful politician in Vermont for 30 years and their (minimum) wage is still $11.75. Amazon's is $15, plus great health care from day one. Sanders would rather talk in Alabama than in Vermont."

On Thursday, Dave Clark, a top executive at Amazon claimed the company is more progressive than Sanders and said the senator "should save his finger wagging lecture until after he actually delivers in his own backyard."

Sanders' gripe with Amazon goes back years.

The company raised its minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour in 2018 after Sanders led public pressure to do so. In September 2018 he introduced a bill dubbed the "Stop BEZOS Act," which would have required large corporations, such as Amazon and Walmart, to pay for federal assistance programs their employees use.

Biden talks unions ahead of Amazon vote in Alabama 09:52

Earlier this month, Sanders invited Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to testify before the Senate Budget Committee at a hearing on income inequality. Bezos declined the invitation, but the committee heard from Jennifer Bates, an Amazon warehouse worker who supports unionizing.

Sanders, an independent who frequently caucuses with Democrats, is a vocal opponent of corporate behemoths. In August 2019, he was invited by workers to speak at a Walmart shareholders meeting where he lobbied the company to pay employees $15 an hour.

In recent weeks, other members of Congress have also voiced their support for the unionization effort. Earlier this month President Joe Biden said that Amazon management should not be influencing the workers' vote.

"Workers in Alabama and all across America are voting whether to organize a union in their workplace. This is vitally important," Mr. Biden said. "The choice to join a union is up to the workers — full stop," he added.

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