Featured photo: Renee Wimbish protests outside of the Kernersville Amazon facility on Feb. 20. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)
Updated Feb. 21, 11:50 a.m.: Response from Amazon spokesperson included.
The near-freezing wind chill didn’t deter close to 40 people from gathering outside of the Amazon fulfillment center in Kernersville on Saturday afternoon.
Activists showed up as part of a day of nationwide protests organized by the Southern Workers Assembly to support ongoing efforts by employees to unionize at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Ala.
“We’re trying to bring attention to what’s happening in Bessemer,” said Tara Rose, an activist with the Winston-Salem Democratic Socialists of America. “I don’t work for Amazon, but it matters to me that Amazon workers in Bessemer are standing up to one of the largest corporations in the world and the richest man in the world. If they can pull this off in Bessemer, it’s going to be a game-changer.”
Rose, along with dozens of other activists, stood on the sidewalk across from the entrance to the fulfillment center off Old Greensboro Road on Saturday and chanted, “What’s outrageous? Sweat shop wages!” and “Overworked, underpaid, Amazon workers are unafraid!”
On Feb. 8, ballots were distributed to more than 5,800 workers at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer asking them if they wanted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which currently represents 100,000 members throughout the country. The election to see if workers will choose to unionize runs through March 29 and if successful, would result in the Bessemer location becoming Amazon’s first unionized facility in the United States.
“Certainly, in Bessemer and other facilities around the country, there are a lot of issues with conditions within the workplace,” Rose said. “Workers are timed very strictly; time is tracked by the company. These facilities are enormous, and it takes time to just walk to the bathroom but if you take too much time off the clock, you can be fired.”
Updated Feb. 20: Amazon Spokesperson Maria Boschetti responded in an email stating that the company already offers what unions are requesting for employees including industry-leading pay and benefits. In response to allegations about bathroom breaks, Boschetti said, “That’s incorrect. Employees can take short breaks at any time to use the restroom, grab water or a snack…”
“As with nearly all companies, we expect a certain level of performance from our associates and we continue to set productivity targets objectively…” Boschetti added.
While no employees took part in the protest in Kernersville on Saturday, Rose said part of the reason they wanted to protest outside of the fulfillment center was to show workers that they supported them. During the protest, several Amazon employees who arrived at the center rolled down their car windows to accept flyers from activists about the unionization efforts in Bessemer. Joshua Hoffman, one of the protesters who was handing out flyers, said he had some brief conversations with employees as they drove into work.
“Most people didn’t know [the unionizing in Bessemer] was happening,” Hoffman said. “Some of them have been like, ‘Oh that’s really good,’ and ‘We appreciate you.’”
Rose said that while today’s protest was in conjunction with the nationwide effort, she and others are considering organizing more events at the Kernersville location in the future.
“There is so much energy around this effort,” Rose said. “I had people text me to say, ‘How can I help?’ and it’s so cool. People are ready for this.”
The Kernersville Amazon facility opened in July 2020 and employs more than 1,000 full-time associates, according to an article by the Triad Business Journal. Currently there are six Amazon facilities in the state including the location in Kernersville.