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RWDSU President on Amazon union vote in Alabama

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Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU President joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss President Biden expressing solidarity for Amazon workers voting on whether to unionize in Alabama.

Video Transcript

- Let's talk about the biggest player in the e-commerce space, that, of course, is Amazon. And Amazon's workers over in Alabama are voting to unionize. They were getting big name support, including the president himself, President Biden posting a video over the weekend on Twitter saying quote, "the choice to join a union is up to employees, full stop." He also had this Warning for Amazon take a listen.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda, no supervisor-- no supervisors should confront employees about their union preferences.

- Let's bring in the head of the union that is spearheading this campaign, the president of retail wholesale and department store union, Stuart Appelbaum. Stuart it's good to talk to you today. When we're talking about Alabama, the South has typically been a difficult region for unions to be able to find success. What do you think is different this time around? And why do you think a lot of these big names have gotten on board with what employees are trying to achieve over in Alabama?

STUART APPELBAUM: Good morning. I think that there are two questions here we should deal with. The first is why is this election so important. And it's because Amazon is transforming industry after industry. Its dominance, its power, is impacting everybody in our economy right now. And when we look at the way Amazon is conducting itself and treating its workers, we think this election is not just about this one workplace. But it's really about what's the future of work is going to look like, how workers are going to be treated in the workplace going forward. And that is why there is so much attention on this election. It's about Bessemer, Alabama. It's about Amazon. But it's really about the future of work.

And why now? I think it's a unique moment. I think a lot of workers have understood that their employers have not necessarily taken adequate care of their health and safety during the pandemic. The pandemic has opened a lot of workers' eyes and people are much more receptive to having a union now than they were before.

I also think in Bessemer many of the people working there have been inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement to stand up and to demand dignity and respect in the workplace. This workplace is probably between 80% to 85% African-American. And the focus on systemic racism has had a big impact on people.

- Stuart, there's a lot of people who are probably watching as well and might look at Amazon as one of those companies that pays relatively better than a lot of employers out there and might look at the way that they treat their workers and some of these stories, some anecdotal stories, and say that they're pretty shocked about some of that going on if the pay is that good. So what do you look at in terms of what might need to be prevented here? Why the push to unionize right now is so important? What are some of the most common complaints you're hearing from some of the workers out there about the push to unionize?

STUART APPELBAUM: Workers say to us that no matter what they're paid, they still feel that they don't want to work at Amazon. And that is proven by the enormous turnover rate you have at Amazon facilities. No matter what it is that the company is paying people, they feel dehumanized and mistreated. They feel that the robots get more respect than the human beings do. People are managed by an algorithm. They're are disciplined by an app on their phone. They're terminated by a text message, and the pace is unbearable.

There is a high injury rate at Amazon facilities all over the country and actually all over the world. People have to worry about whether or not they can go to the bathroom without risking their job because they won't be able to maintain the quota that is required of them. People are saying that no matter what it is Amazon pays, it doesn't matter if they're not treated with respect.

And people also note too that Amazon for a while provided hazard pay and has terminated the hazard pay. The hazards haven't gone away. We're looking still during a pandemic where people are still putting themselves at risk by going to work. And everybody knows the enormous profits that Amazon and Jeff Bezos have made during this period. And yet the workers' hazard pay is being taken away from them. They feel that they're getting no respect at all, and they want that to change.

- Stuart, you heard the president talk about say that basically anti-union propaganda needs to stop. He didn't name Amazon specifically, but certainly that was addressed at the company. What have you heard from employees about what's happening internally and how the company is pressuring some employees to not organize?

STUART APPELBAUM: Oh, it's horrible for the workers there. Workers are being bombarded with anti-union messages and propaganda everywhere in the workplace-- signs, posters, banners, everywhere they look. And they're even in the bathroom stalls. If you're sitting on a toilet in an Amazon bathroom, they have placed at eye level anti-union propaganda telling you to oppose the union. People are called into mandatory captive audience meetings where they're required to listen to lectures as to why unions are bad for you and Amazon takes care of everything you need. And they even hear lies about what's going on.

Amazon is telling people if the union comes in, you're going to have to pay union dues, which could be used on other things. Alabama is a right to work state. Nobody ever has to pay union dues in Alabama unless they want to. Amazon has created a website. It's texting workers throughout the day multiple times.

It's calling people at home. Supervisors are calling people at home, telling them to vote against the union. Amazon has brought in maybe 100 outsiders to walk the floor of the facility, pressuring people to vote against the union.

These are the sorts of anti-union tactics that President Biden rightfully has called out. If it were not for the employer intimidation and interference, there would be no question that these workers would vote for the union. But the company is trying to make them afraid.

- And it's very rare, again, to see the President wading in onto these issues here at the national level. I'm with Stuart Appelbaum RWDSU President, appreciate you coming on here to chat that. We'll be watching that. Thanks again for taking the time to chat today.