The Real Story in Bessemer, AL
A brave group of workers in Bessemer, AL, a small town outside Birmingham, work long hard hours in an Amazon warehouse. They are Black and white, young and old. Many drive for miles to do the grueling work because it pays better than the local minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Still even with $15 an hour, it is hard to make ends meet. With all the hard work organizers have done to raise the minimum wage to $15 we sometimes forget that this is still really low — imagine trying to support yourself or your family on about $30K a year. Despite the barrage of ads extolling Amazon’s generous wages, this is grueling, back-breaking work well below US annual real median earnings of $41.5K a year and $52K a year for folks who work full time. Folks might think, well it’s Alabama, living costs are lower, but again the data shows Birmingham is about as expensive as alot of cities; a family of four needs about $86K to cover housing, food, childcare etc — so even 2 parents working full time at Amazon will come up short. Meanwhile, Amazon has raised pay to $350K for some folks at headquarters and of course we all know Bezos takes home millions and pays no taxes. Amazon doth protest too much with those ads. They’ve likely spent more on shady union-busting consultants than just listening to and addressing workers’ needs.
The workers are not even asking for that much — they want basic things like safe working conditions, respect, to know who their supervisor is, to be able to speak to each other and support each other at work.
These workers are organizing to make their workplace and their lives better; they are organizing a union. Legally it is supposed to be their free choice but for the last many weeks they have been voting amidst an all-out campaign by Amazon to convince them to vote no and this week the National Labor Relations Board will begin to count the results. The stories now will turn to vote counts, to Amazon contesting ballots (last round they contended that 505 workers’ ballots should not be counted — imagine if you had worked so hard and your ballot was not even opened!). We will hear more stories of unfair labor practices for sure and updates on what can be a somewhat arcane process of rules, delays and legal challenges.
These twists and turns can eclipse the real story in Bessemer — which is a story of real people. Real people’s lives. People working hard, not making enough, not feeling safe at work, juggling work and kids just like the rest of us. Real people who are taking risks, speaking up, supporting each other and insisting that things can be better at work and that they deserve respect and fair treatment for their hard work. A few months ago in Bessemer, the amazing worker organizers Jennifer Bates and Darryl Richardson stood on stage with hundreds of pictures of co-workers. These folks are the Real Deal. They are the real news — regardless of the outcome of this election, workers are in motion, change is coming, heroes are in our midst.