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Union organizers wait to talk to Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama in December. Photo: Bob Miller/The New York Times/Redux
Union organizers wait to talk to Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama in December. Photo: Bob Miller/The New York Times/Redux

The Bessemer union push at Amazon has the attention of state treasurers across the U.S.

Four state treasurers penned a letter to the online retail giant to honor and implement its stated commitments to human rights principles and address the…

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The retail giant, Amazon, has come under intense scrutiny for its persistent anti-union advocacy being imposed upon workers at their warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. 

If the workers vote yes to unionize, they would be the first Amazon warehouse to do so, but Amazon has been deliberately attempting to derail their efforts

In December 2020, activists and employees awarded CEO Jeff Bezos with “Profiteer of the Year.” During the pandemic, Bezos made $90 million, while about 20,000 of his workers tested positive for the coronavirus, and their hazard pay expired in June. 

As outlined in its Global Human Rights Principles, the company states that it “respect[s] and support[s] the Core Conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, as well as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” 

Nevertheless, Amazon is very openly infringing upon the rights of workers to exercise freedom of association at the Bessemer warehouse. 

So far, the company has published an anti-union website, posted anti-union propaganda on warehouse bathroom stalls, and sent out mass text messages to employees discouraging them from meeting. 

It has also attempted to make the union vote more complicated by forcing employees to hold an in-person meeting during the pandemic. 

On Tuesday Feb. 9, four state treasurers, affiliated with the organization, For the Long Term,  penned a letter to Amazon to address the growing concerns surrounding the workers in Bessemer. 

In the letter, Colleen Davis of Delaware, Michael W. Frerichs of Illinois, Sarah A. Godlewski of Wisconsin, and David L. Young of Colorado, urged the company to honor and implement its stated commitments to human rights principles, and immediately address the situation unfolding at their Bessemer facility. 

The letter was addressed to Jamie Gorelick, Chair of the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee of the Amazon Board of Directors. 

The treasurers wrote: “Workers should be free to exercise their freedom of association and right to collective bargaining.” 

The four State Treasurer’s also expressed their support for a letter from two major Amazon investors, Öhman and Folksam, also written on Tuesday Feb. 9, that called on the company to adopt a policy of neutrality when its workers consider forming or joining a union. 

The investors suggested that Amazon put the policy in place for the workers at the Bessemer facility, and that they conduct frequent conversations with shareholders on their adherence to international workers’ rights at that facility. 

“All we are asking of Amazon is that they follow the ILO Core Conventions and Fundamental Principles, which they said they support in their own Global Human Rights Principles, wrote State Treasurer Michael Frerichs. “Given the size and influence of Amazon, the way they treat their workers matters for all fifty states.” 

The treasurer’s did applaud Amazon’s recent publication of the human rights principles they claim to stand by, but voiced serious concerns over whether the company is living up these commitments at the Bessemer facility. 

“Essential workers like Amazon’s warehouse workers are national heroes for helping to keep our economy going during this pandemic. We should be doing everything we can to support them as they explore whether or not to join a union. I’m proud to stand with Amazon workers,” wrote Godlewski. 

Davis underlined that workers have a fundamental human right to “join or form a union without fear or reprisal, intimidation, or harassment,” and that this is apparently a value that Amazon already subscribes to. 

Young made a point to state that all workers matter, “whether they work at a meat-packing plant in Greeley, Colorado, or an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama” and that he will always stand up for essential workers. 

“These workers, who were doing hard work with low pay BEFORE the pandemic, deserve adulation, not an anti-union campaign,” he wrote. 

Ballots for the union vote at the Bessemer facility are due on March 29, and the count begins the day after. More than 3,000 of the 5,800 employees have signed cards authorizing the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to represent them. 

Whether they are successful or not, the national attention brought by their actions have already inspired outreach workers within and outside of Amazon to consider unionizing. 

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