Amazon dismisses Alabama warehouse worker who led unionization efforts
An Amazon employee who helped lead a historic organizing campaign to organize the company’s first US union in an Alabama facility has been sacked by the e-commerce giant.
Jennifer Bates became the face of the push to unionize an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, in 2021 after testifying before lawmakers about her “grueling” experience working for the firm.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which led the so-far failed attempt to unionize the Bessemer factory, announced on Friday that she was sacked by Amazon after returning from medical leave due to workplace injuries.
“I’ve given Amazon my back over the last three years.” Amazon has had my arms and shoulders for the past three years. And I’ve devoted the last three years of my life to organizing Amazon,” Bates said in a statement Friday. “It’s incomprehensible that they treat me like this.”
“But, let me be clear, Amazon,” she added, “your firing of me will not stifle worker organizing, because firing leaders only brings more people ignited into the movement.”
According to a spokeswoman for Amazon, Bates “has the opportunity to appeal the decision.”
“Our records show that Ms. Bates did not show up to work for a period of time and did not respond or provide documentation to excuse her absences,” an Amazon spokesman, Mary Kate Paradis, told CNN in a statement. “We work hard to accommodate our team’s needs for personal leaves of absence, but we ask our employees, like any employer, to meet certain minimum expectations for leave approval.”
The termination has the potential to rekindle tensions between Amazon and workers who were inspired to organize earlier in the pandemic due to dissatisfaction with the company’s reaction to the health issue and a broader focus on racial injustices in the United States.
Amazon warehouse workers in New York voted last year to form the company’s first US union, but Amazon has since refused to recognize the union or negotiate. Other attempts to unionize Amazon facilities have failed, including one across the street from the New York warehouse.
Due to hundreds of challenged ballots, the results of the widely awaited union election at the Bessemer complex were too close to call. The National Labor Relations Board is still investigating charges filed against Amazon by the union accusing the firm of improper campaign conduct. (Amazon had previously submitted its own complaints over the RWDSU’s actions.)
“What is clear today is that Amazon terminated one of the most public pro-union worker leaders we’ve seen in a generation over an alleged paperwork issue, for which there is ample documentation,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum in a statement Friday.
Amazon was accused by Appelbaum of “firing union leaders in the facility to all but extinguish any embers of union support in the facility.”
“We will continue to hold Amazon accountable and ensure workers’ voices are heard,” said Appelbaum. “Amazon’s actions must not go unchallenged, and workers in Bessemer, Alabama, must have their legal rights protected.”