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Lawmakers, Chicago unions support Amazon workers’ union vote in Alabama

U.S. Reps. Jesús “Chuy” Garcia and Jan Schakowsky joined union workers outside Amazon’s Chicago office to voice support for an ongoing union vote among workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. 

U.S. Representative Jesús “Chuy” Garcia speaks to Chicago labor leaders about the PRO Act, which passed in the House March 9.
U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” Garcia speaks to Chicago labor leaders and union members about the PRO Act, which passed in the House March 9.
Zac Clingenpeel/Sun-Times

“Union Yes! Union Yes!” Chicago labor leaders and union members chanted Friday outside Amazon’s Chicago office.

The demonstrators, who were joined by the U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, gathered to voice support for an ongoing union vote among workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.

The crowd also urged senators to pass the PRO Act, union legislation that would override right-to-work laws across the country. Schakowsky and Garcia voted in favor of the act when it passed in the House on March 9.

“It is very gratifying to see labor uniting around this struggle,” Garcia said. He added that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders would be joining the Retail Workers Union in Alabama to encourage union organizing.

Chicago Federation of Labor Secretary-Treasurer Don Villar leads union workers in protest outside of the Chicago Amazon corporate office and Amazon Go store Friday, March 26.
Chicago Federation of Labor Secretary-Treasurer Don Villar leads union workers in protest outside of the Chicago Amazon corporate office and Amazon Go store Friday.
Zac Clingenpeel/Sun-Times

Chicago Federation of Labor Secretary-Treasurer Don Villar urged Amazon workers across the nation, including in Chicago, to unionize.

“We’ve seen the intense pressure that Amazon has placed on these workers,” Villar said. “They’re trying to crush the spirit of the workers.”

Villar said the PRO Act would hold large corporations like Amazon accountable for violating labor laws.

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Unions at the rally included the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, the Teamsters Joint Council 25, and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

“This is going to be the era of the workers,” Schakowsky said.

U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky stands alongside Chicago union workers outside of the Amazon corporate offices Friday to show support for union efforts in Bessemer, Alabama.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky stands alongside Chicago union workers outside of the Amazon corporate offices Friday to show support for union efforts in Bessemer, Alabama.
Zac Clingenpeel/Sun-Times

The ongoing mail vote by almost 6,000 workers at the Bessemer warehouse is the largest union push ever at Amazon, one of the world’s wealthiest companies. The election, which runs through March, also ranks among the largest single organizing efforts in Southern history. It follows a series of failed organizing votes at automobile assembly plants — Nissan in Mississippi in 2017, Volkswagen in Tennessee in 2019, among others — that have flocked to the region over the past three decades.

The union’s election overlaps with President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress pushing the “PRO Act,” legislation that would overhaul labor law to make organizing easier. The bill represents the most significant labor law change since the New Deal era and follows a decades-long slide in union membership. In 1970, almost a third of the U.S. workforce were unionized. In 2020, that number was 10.8%.

Amazon, which has a long record of beating back organizing campaigns, has held mandatory sessions to tell workers a union would command dues when they already get the kind of compensation benefits, including health insurance, that unions negotiate.

“We believe we already offer everything the unions are requesting and that we highly value direct communication with our employees,” said company spokeswoman Heather Knox.

Nikeia Peals, a former Chicago Amazon worker, said she was fired from her job and denied any appeal after weather made it difficult to show up for work on time. There is no union for Chicago Amazon workers.

“This is why today I stand in solidarity with the Amazon workers in Bessemer,” Peals said.

Contributing: The Associated Press