‘Treating us like robots’: Amazon workers seek union

BESSEMER, ALABAMA (AP) — Linda Burns was excited at first to land a job at the Amazon warehouse outside Birmingham, Alabama.

The former nursing assistant had always enjoyed ordering from the company. Now, she would be working for them.

A cog in a fast-moving assembly line, her job involved picking up customers’ orders and sending them down the line to the packers. Now she is a staunch supporter of getting a union at the Bessemer facility. She said employees face relentless quotas and deserve more respect.

“They are treating us like robots rather than humans,” said Burns, 51, who said she is out of leave after developing tendonitis.

This week, Amazon workers and union advocates, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, made a last-minute push as voting comes to a close in the high-stakes union battle. If organisers are successful, it could lead to a chain reaction of other unionisation pushes at Amazon facilities. If voted down, it would be another loss for organisers hoping to win a rare labour victory in the Deep South.

Amazon distribution centre in Bessemer, Alabama is the centre of a potentially groundbreaking unionisation effort. PHOTO: AP

Amazon is fighting the union. The company argues the warehouse created thousands of jobs with an average pay of USD15.30 per hour — more than twice the minimum wage in Alabama. Workers also get benefits including healthcare, vision and dental insurance without paying union dues, the company said.

Burns and Harvey Wilson, a 41-year-old who works as a “picker” at Amazon, both said they’re supporting the union because of poor working conditions at the warehouse.

Employees face relentless quotas and the mammoth size of the facility makes it nearly impossible to get to the bathroom and back to your station during a workers’ break time, they said.

Part-time Amazon worker Emmit Ashford said that even if the vote fails, he believes the workers in Bessemer have ignited something.

“No matter what happens with this vote, the bell has been rung and it won’t stop here. We will not stop fighting,” Ashford said at a rally ahead of the vote.