Newswire: Rev. Barber to Amazon workers in Alabama on Moral Monday: Your union campaign reverberates throughout world 

Rev. Barber addressing Bessemer Amazon worker ( photo by Stephen Roach Knight)

Moral leader Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II joined Amazon workers in Alabama for the Poor People’s Campaign Moral Monday as those workers vowed not to back down in the face of aggressive anti-union tactics from the company owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos.  Rev. Barber, who spoke in the final week for employees to vote,  compared the unionization effort at the plant in Bessemer, Alabama, to the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965.  “This is the first viable attempt to form a union at Amazon in the United States,” said Rev. Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. “You all are first just like the folks who were first to cross that bridge. This is not just Bessemer; this is the world. Bessemer is now our Selma.” The battle to suppress the vote and the battle to suppress labor rights has been the tactic used by the Southern white aristocracy to hold onto their money. And it’s still true,” he said. “The same money that’s behind voter suppression is behind blocking labor rights. And we need to understand that.” Employee Linda Burns said Amazon paid her for just two of three weeks she was out of work when she contracted COVID-19.  “I’m ready to fight,” she said. “I am tired. I want everybody to hear me. We’re in this together. If I have to come to Missouri, Cleveland, California, New York, I’m fighting for everybody. Not just me. It’s not all about me. It’s for everybody. And I’m ready. We’ve got to fight for our rights.” 5 The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is organizing the almost 6,000 people who work at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, who include 85% Black people. The deadline to vote is March 29, after which the National Labor Relations Board will count the ballots.  Through the pandemic, Amazon saw a 200% rise in its profits, but ended hazard pay of as much as $2/hour, even as 20,000 Amazon employees contracted COVID-19. At the same time, Jeff Bezos has seen his wealth skyrocket from $113 billion to $189 billion. With this increase, he could have paid every Amazon employee a bonus of $94,000 and still maintained more than $100 billion for himself.    Other anti-union tactics include signs in bathrooms, Amazon worker Jennifer Bates testified last week at a congressional hearing. Amazon also sends messages to workers’ phones and forces employees to attend almost hour-long meetings each week, she said.    Burns was one of two workers who spoke at the Moral Monday program, which also included union organizer Mike Foster and Rev. Carolyn Foster, tri-chair of the Alabama Poor People’s Campaign, which invited Rev. Barber to speak at the rally.  Amazon worker Emmit Ashford said his colleagues are frustrated and tired but believe they have no other options than to work at the warehouse.  “We have to not settle for what has been given to us but demand what we deserve, and we cannot sit by and let our fellow man be taken advantage of. There’s so much out there for everyone. There’s enough for everyone. Yet, it’s not given to us, and that is not right. We cannot continue like this and we won’t continue like this, and America says we will not continue like this. We are in this together, not just in Alabama but across the country. And we have to continue fighting, no matter what happens with this vote. The bell has been rung, and it won’t stop here. It will continue from sea to shining sea.” Mike Foster said the Bessemer workers “are showing the encouragement to the people around the world that they don’t have to stand for what somebody is just giving them. These people understand that they need a seat at the table in order to be heard. … We say we don’t want a minimum wage. We’re looking for a living wage. We’re tired of just paying bills.” Rev. Foster noted that just like during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Alabama is again in the spotlight “in a fight for human dignity and respect as Amazon workers struggle to organize to join a union. For me, this is a throwback to what I lived through growing up in Birmingham in the 1960s. The intimidation and coercion I hear Amazon workers are experiencing feels very much like what civil rights activists experienced in my childhood neighborhood. The Alabama Poor People’s Campaign  has helped to amplify the efforts of the workers and show community support especially during this last week to vote.” After the in-person event in Bessemer, the program went online with other PPC leaders and powerful labor leaders voicing their support for the Amazon unionization drive.  “Today we’re calling out this Goliath of Amazon with powerful David —  the 6,000 of Bessemer,” said Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. “Call your senators and say, we stand for labor rights. We stand for living wages. We stand for voting rights, and we will keep on organizing until we win those all.’ “This is way beyond Bessemer,” said Roz Pelles, strategic adviser for the Poor People’s Campaign. “This is going to change the lives of the workers at Amazon – each one. It’s going to change Bessemer. It’s going to change the state of Alabama. It’s going to change this country.”