Amazon fires Alabama warehouse worker who led union push


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Nov 05, 2023

Amazon fires Alabama warehouse worker who led union push

An Amazon worker who helped lead a milestone organizing effort to form

An Amazon worker who helped lead a milestone organizing effort to form what would have been the company's first US union at a warehouse in Alabama said she has been fired by the e-commerce giant.

Jennifer Bates became the face of the effort to unionize an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, back in 2021 when she testified before lawmakers about her "grueling" experience working at the company.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which spearheaded the so-far unsuccessful effort to unionize the Bessemer facility, said on Friday she was fired by Amazon after returning from medical leave following injuries sustained on the job.

This warehouse worker became the face of a union push at Amazon. She's still bracing for the fallout

"I’ve given my back to Amazon these past three years. I’ve given my arms and shoulders to Amazon these past three years. And I’ve given every fiber of my soul into organizing Amazon these past three years," Bates said in a statement Friday. "For them to treat me like this is unfathomable."

"But let me be clear, Amazon," she added, "your termination of my employment will not stifle workers organizing, for when you fire leaders, it only brings more people ignited into the movement."

An Amazon spokesperson told CNN that Bates "has the opportunity to appeal the decision."

"Our records indicate that Ms. Bates failed to show up to work for a period of time and didn't respond or provide documentation to excuse her absences," Mary Kate Paradis, an Amazon spokesperson, told CNN in a statement. "We work hard to accommodate our team's needs for personal leaves of absence, but like any employer, we ask our employees to meet certain minimum expectations for leave approval."

The firing threatens to renew tensions between Amazon and workers who were spurred to organize earlier in the pandemic amid frustrations with the company's response to the health crisis and a broader spotlight on racial inequities in the United States.

Amazon workers at a New York warehouse voted to form the company's first US union last year, though Amazon has since refused to recognize the union or come to the bargaining table. Other efforts to unionize Amazon facilities, including one across the street from the New York warehouse, have failed.

The closely-watched union election at the Bessemer facility ended with the results too close to call due to hundreds of challenged ballots. The National Labor Relations Board is still reviewing challenges brought against Amazon by the union accusing the company of illegal activity during the campaign. (Amazon has previously filed its own objections to the RWDSU's conduct.)

"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," RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement Friday.

Appelbaum accused Amazon 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," Appelbaum added. "Amazon's behavior must not go unchallenged, and workers in Bessemer, Alabama must have their rights protected under the law."