Killer Mike alongside U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders visited Birmingham, Alabama on Friday (March 26) to speak with distraught Amazon employees who are fighting to become the e-commerce company’s first unionized workforce.
They arrived on the ground in Alabama days before voting to determine whether employees who work at Amazon’s BHM1 fulfillment center in nearby Bessemer will be able to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) ends. Many disgruntled workers have been organizing since last summer, shortly after the $325 million facility opened its doors in March 2020. Cries of unfair, sweatshop-like working conditions, in addition to unreasonable quotas, short bathroom breaks, and a faulty COVID-19 response have led to this moment. And although the $15.50 base Amazon pays its warehouse workers is higher than the federal minimum wage, in Birmingham — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics —the average rate is $3 more than what the online marketplace company is offering.
That’s why the Atlanta-based activist and former presidential candidate met with several workers from Amazon’s BHM1 fulfillment center in Bessemer inside a RWDSU hall before delivering rousing speeches at their pro-union rally outdoors.
Mike’s staunch support for improving working conditions and the morale of the majority Black Bessemer workers was clear in his message. “Think about an environment where you walk out to the latest rap song because they tell you that’s hip,” Mike said, harking back on specific conversations he had with Amazon employees. “They might play some Cardi B, might play some Run the Jewels, might play some Lil Baby as they work you like a slave. They might leave a sugary snack out for you to boost your metabolism enough to get through packing packages every nine seconds. I can’t pick my nose in nine seconds and you’re expecting people to pick something in nine seconds, because you simply need it.”
“I’m going to tell everyone that works here, I’m going to say absolutely you should vote yes for that union,”he continued, as the crowd applauded. “What the union does is give you an organized seat at the table. It allows you to plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize. It allows you to say that pay in Alabama should be more than 16 bucks in a warehouse. It’s no way we should be seeing below 20 bucks, don’t tell me you want to make an economic investment in my community and then you come pay me fast food wages you don’t want an economic investment you want to use me like an indentured servant to enrich the richest man in the world.”
The National Labor Relations Board mailed out over 5,000 ballots in February to Bessemer warehouse workers. Once voting ends on March 29, the labor board will tally the votes, and announce whether the majority of workers voted to unionize. The monumental decision would make Amazon legally required to bargain with the RWDSU. And according to Senator Sanders, it could have nationwide ramifications.
“If you succeed here, it will spread all over this country,” he said. “Enough really is enough. How much money do the richest people in this country require? How much in profits do the largest corporations really need?”