(As a Feb. 22 addendum to this piece black Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, who made a strong bid for governor in 2018, posted on Saturday, Feb. 20, the same day the editorial below appeared, a strong endorsement of unionization at Amazon's Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse. That's a welcome show of support that the workers need. It'd be nice to hear from Vice President Kamala Harris, too, wouldn't it?)
Why is there a deafening silence among many black politicians and civil rights leaders regarding the historic union vote taking place at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse?
On Feb. 8, the 5,805 workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse began receiving ballots on whether to vote in the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Most of them are black in a 70 percent black city. Ballots must be filed by the end of March.
Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont and erstwhile presidential candidate, and a group of U.S. House members led by House Education & Labor Committee member Andy Levin have been vocal in their support of the workers, who’ve been on the front lines risking their own health during the pandemic while frantically getting merchandise to customers who can no longer shop without fear of the COVID 19 virus.
Long-brewing issues with their working conditions and warehouse safety at the bustling plant have fueled a union drive that has deeply frightened anti-union Amazon even in a right-to-work, Deep South conservative state. The massive company has waged a bitter war against the effort that has even included an online campaign to determine who might be pushing for the union.
Levin got 50 members of the U.S. House to sign a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expressing support for the union drive and asking the company to desist in its anti-union campaigning. Missing from that list of members are prominent Democratic black congressmen such as Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and James Clyburn of South Carolina, the self-styled kingmaker who helped Joe Biden make a sweep of the South in the Democratic presidential primaries.
Also little or nothing has been heard from the NAACP and the Black Congressional Caucus about the Bessemer vote.
Could the reason be Amazon money? The company boasted last July that it was matching the $8.5 million that its employees across 33 companies had donated to programs and organizations aimed at fighting racism. With an earlier donation of $10 million, the company said its contribution would total $27 million.
Recipients of that largesse included: the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, National Urban League, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and the United Negro College Fund.
Did Amazon’s money buy silence?
During the United Auto Workers’ drive to organize workers at Nissan’s giant plant in Canton, Mississippi, some years back, the company funneled plenty of cash into the NAACP, which partnered with Nissan for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in 2013. That same year Nissan gave $100,000 to the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute to commemorate the life of martyred Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers. Although Hollywood actor and strong UAW supporter Danny Glover had been a featured speaker at past annual Medgar Evers dinners, he was significantly not invited at the 2013 event.
The NAACP’s Murfreesboro, Tennessee, branch was so thankful for Nissan’s monetary help in 2016 that it named the company’s North American operations “Organization of the Year”.
Yet Nissan, like Amazon, waged a fierce campaign against the organizing effort at its Canton plant, yet again an operation with a majority black workforce.