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Amazon has ‘disregard for health and safety of it’s own employees:’ RWDSU President

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Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union president Stuart Appelbaum discuss Amazon’s upcomming vote to unionize workers in Alabama.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Amazon will soon have its first new leader in 27 years. The e-commerce giant announced late yesterday that founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos will step down as CEO this spring to assume the role of executive chair. Andy Jassy, who heads up Amazon's cloud business, will succeed Bezos. The news was included in Amazon's earnings report, which showed yet another blowout quarter with record revenue of more than $125 billion during the holiday quarter.

And the news comes just days before Amazon workers at an Alabama warehouse will vote on whether to unionize. Joining me now is Stuart Appelbaum. He is president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, who has been leading the pro-union campaign. Stuart, thanks for making time for us. I'm curious what your reaction was when you heard the news come down late yesterday that Jeff Bezos was stepping down.

STUART APPELBAUM: Well, first of all, good afternoon. I thought the timing of the news yesterday was interesting, to say the least. I thought perhaps Amazon was trying to create a distraction, so we would not be focusing on what has been in the news about Amazon recently, which is the way they stole over $60 million worth of drivers' tips and the way they are trying to crush the effort of workers at their facility in Bessemer, Alabama to get a collective voice and form a union.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: So you've been working with those workers at the Bessemer warehouse. I know that ballots are going to be going out on Monday. They have until March 29th to get those ballots back in about whether or not they want to unionize. I understand that Amazon in recent weeks has attempted to stop that election. Can you tell us in what ways they've been doing that?

STUART APPELBAUM: Well, they're trying to take another page from Trump's playbook. And they're trying to say that during a pandemic, we cannot trust mail elections. And so they're insisting that in a state with a high infection rate, 5,800 people are going to have to show up in person if they want to cast a vote for the union. I think that represents the disregard they have for the health and safety of their own employees. There is no reason why we cannot do a mail ballot. They're trying to stop the election from proceeding on February 8th, but we'll know very soon whether or not they've succeeded.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Stuart, back in 2018, I know that you had made some efforts to organize workers at Whole Foods, which had been bought by Amazon, is still owned by Amazon, to have them unionize. That effort didn't come to pass. Why do you think you might be more successful this time?

STUART APPELBAUM: It was a different sort of effort at Whole Foods than it is at the fulfillment center in Bessemer. I think a few things have all come together. I think that the pandemic has opened a lot of people's eyes that they can't just trust their employer as to their own health and safety, especially when their lives are at risk. And that they want to have a collective voice. They've seen what is going on within Amazon facilities, where a lot of people have gotten sick and even died during the pandemic. And they know they need to be able to stand up to protect their own health and safety and the lives of their family members.

At the same time, I think people have been inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. More than 85% of the people at this facility are African-American. And I think people have been inspired to stand up and fight for their own dignity and respect, to be treated the way they deserve to be treated. And on top of all of this, we have a new administration in Washington that has a completely different attitude towards the importance of unions. So it seemed like the right time and the right place to hold an election on unionization.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Now I know Alabama has a-- it's a right to work state, which means that if they do vote to unionize, workers are not going to be automatically part of the union. They would have to become members. They would have to pay dues. I read in "The Wall Street Journal" that reporters had talked to some of the workers there, who said they didn't think the union would be able to cut a better deal for them and make a material difference in their relationship with Amazon. What do you-- what would you say to those employees?

STUART APPELBAUM: First of all, I'd say that a majority of the workers at the plant have already signed cards saying that they want to union at that facility. I know that there are a lot of complaints about the dehumanization and the mistreatment of workers at the Amazon facility. People get their assignments from robots. They're fired by text message. And they feel that the robots are treated better than the human beings who work there.

There are a lot of concerns about health and safety. Even before the pandemic, the pace at the fulfillment center was unsustainable. It's people get sick and die just by working at an Amazon facility. There's a lot that needs to be changed. And I think most of all, what people want is to be treated with dignity and respect. And they don't feel that Amazon is doing that now.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, we're going to see how the vote comes down. Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, thanks for joining us.

STUART APPELBAUM: Thank you very much. Thank you for covering this important story.