Talking to Kim Kelly About the Most Electrifying Union Drive in America
That and much more in today's What Now newsletter.
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Today, I spoke to Kim Kelly, a freelance journalist and labor reporter who’s currently in Bessemer, AL covering the Amazon unionizing effort unfolding there. We spoke on the heels of a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that allowed the mail-in union vote to continue as scheduled and a rainy Saturday rally with a pizza delivery from Bernie Sanders. You can follow Kim (@GrimKim) and her current work in Bessemer with More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) on Twitter.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Let’s start at the beginning. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about this specific warehouse and what led to workers organizing, and how the organizing effort has gone up until this point?
So, I interviewed and became friendly with the guy who made the first call—the person who got on Google and found RWDSU [the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union] and decided to give them a call. The job he had before Amazon was unionized and he was involved there, and after he got laid off and circumstances landed him at Amazon, he looked around at his job and what was happening to his coworkers and he decided that something had to give, and that he needed to do something to try and make things better. So he made the call and RWDSU got involved. And I think there was a small core of folks at the beginning that has really exploded. Like I think when they made the initial filing, the original bargaining unit was about 1500 people or so. And by the time they sat down with Amazon to have a meeting about it, they showed up with 3000 union cards. It's been one of the things that make me so confident that they're gonna win. It's spread so far just through intercommunity worker bonds. People heard about it and they want to get involved. It's not a top-down effort at all. Obviously the RWDSU is here offering support and guidance when it's wanted and needed, but it's the workers themselves who are really pulling this all together. And it's really incredible to see, because it does take a lot of guts to get out there and be public about it too.
I think the reason that there hasn't been as much press that centers these workers’ voices is the fact that they simply haven't wanted to go public yet. But over the past week, we've had all these pieces come out because a handfull of people decided, you know what, fuck it, I'm going to come out and talk about this and see what happens. And as that's been happening, one of the organizers down here told me that more workers want to go public and talk about what's happening. So it seems like everything that's happened so far has been building up and building up. And there's still so much more to go. The mail-in election officially kicks off on Monday and because of the NLRB’s 24-hour rule, Amazon has had to cease its anti-union campaign. So as far as the union is concerned, their campaign is just now beginning. Because they have 50-some days [mail-in voting ends on March 29] to counteract all of Amazon's anti-union propaganda and to reach workers and to really push this effort and really explain to people like, “This is what we’re trying to accomplish and this is why we need your help.” Everything up until this moment has been groundwork. So I think it's going to be really interesting in the next few weeks.