'We Not Human At All.' Why the Fight to Unionize an Alabama Amazon Warehouse Could Spur a Labor Union Resurgence

Friday - 09/04/2021 12:05
People hold a banner at the Amazon facility as members of a congressional delegation arrive to show their support for workers who will vote on whether to unionize, in Bessemer, Alabama, U.S. March 5, 2021. Dustin Chambers—Reuters
People hold a banner at the Amazon facility as members of a congressional delegation arrive to show their support for workers who will vote on whether to unionize, in Bessemer, Alabama, U.S. March 5, 2021. Dustin Chambers—Reuters

Darryl Richardson is bone-tired. For a year, he has labored in a sprawling Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, collecting the home office supplies, fleece sweatpants, antibacterial wipes and other pandemic purchases that millions of customers have been adding to their virtual shopping carts since the warehouse opened in March 2020. As a “picker” for the retail giant, it is Richardson’s job to gather the items and put them in a tote where they can be sent for packing and shipping.

It’s monotonous, labor-intensive work and Richardson says it has taken a physical toll on his 51-year-old body. “I go in there and give it all I can give them,” he says. “My hands be achy, my legs be sore, I be too tired when I get off to do anything. Sometimes I don’t even eat. That’s how tired I be.”

But when he’s not working his 10 hour shifts or picking up mandatory overtime hours as a picker, Richardson is taking on a task that is perhaps even more exhausting: challenging the second largest retail organization in the world—whose founder Jeff Bezos is the richest man on the planet—to a unionization battle that started in his small town and has garnered global attention.

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