Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Sid Salter: Organized Labour's Racial Narrative Soundly Rejected Yet Again

Organized labor’s organizing efforts in the South in recent years have focused on equating union membership with social justice. Over the last decade, that narrative has been soundly rejected in union votes and in most cases by workers with significant percentages of Black workers.

The most recent example came in Bessemer, Alabama, as some 6,000 workers in Amazon’s BHM1 Fulfillment Center there resoundingly rejected the organizing effort by the New York
Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) – with 1,798 votes against the union and 738 in favor of it.

Amazon officials said the post-election numbers reflected that “less than 16 percent of the employees at BHM1 voted to join the RWDSU union.”

In a statement, the internet giant said of the union election: “It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true. Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us. And Amazon didn’t win—our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union.”

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, accused Amazon of “lies, deceptions and illegal activities” in the union vote fight. The union said is would formally object to the election at the National Labor Relations Board.

The Amazon union battle saw President Joe Biden weigh in by video in support of “workers in Alabama.” Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, a Democratic congressional delegation, and actor Danny Glover joined in support of the effort to unionize the Bessemer warehouse.

Glover has been active in union organizing efforts across the country and particularly in the rural South. Mississippians have seen Glover often in union vote efforts in their state. During the 2020 presidential election, Glover was a surrogate for self-described Democratic Socialist and independent Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders during a Mississippi campaign event.

Sanders supporters at that event got a reprise of a March 2017 joint visit by Sanders and Glover to Mississippi designed to promote unionization of one of Mississippi’s two automobile manufacturing plants – this time without Sanders.

Called the “March on Mississippi” in 2017, the United Auto Workers, Sanders, Glover, the NAACP, and fellow political travelers appeared in Canton to continue to peddle the narrative that “workers’ rights equal civil rights.”

With our state’s undeniable history of civil rights atrocities in our past, Mississippi makes an almost cinematic background for presenting the narrative that both Mississippians and the wider world should equate civil rights with organized labor’s quest for a union vote at the Nissan plant in Canton.

As noted, the struggle for “civil rights” sounds far more noble and desirable than what is actually happening in Bessemer and across the landscape of manufacturing plants in the South. The same dynamics frame the Amazon union fight in Alabama.

The right-to-work states in the South like Alabama and Mississippi are the prime targets. The bottom line is that unions are in decline and are actively seeking to infiltrate Southern manufacturing and warehouse operations to survive.

In defending RWDSU allegations, Amazon officials – who offer a starting wage of $15.30 per hour - said: “There are 40 million Americans who make less than the starting wage at Amazon, and many more who don’t get health care through their employers, and we think that should be fixed. We welcome the opportunity to sit down and share ideas with any policymaker who wants to pass laws ensuring that all workers in the U.S. are guaranteed at least $15 an hour, health care from day one, and other strong benefits. Our employees have seen tremendous benefit from what we offer, and we think every American family deserves the same.”

Labor unions are components in negotiations between workers and employers. But union membership neither guarantees nor generates social justice or the advance of civil rights.


Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at



Anonymous said...

I'm trying to see a race angle to union representation. Can't find one for the life of me and I've been a member of management in union and non-union places of employment. Sid can make a race-mess out of any damned thing, it seems. He's never in his life held a true private-sector job. There IS NO racial narrative to union existence or membership.

Don't let it go unnoticed that he's attempting to appear a bit British with his spelling of labor.

Kingfish said...

No private sector job?

Publisher of Scott County Times.
Editor at Clarion-Ledger.

Both are private companies. Private comanies = private sector.

Anonymous said...

Union organizers insult the intelligence of Black workers when they always equate union organizing with a civil rights struggle. Black people associate civil rights with a moral struggle, right vs wrong. They understand the union affiliation is about dollars and cents, purely financial, it's for somebody's financial benefit. They weight the alternatives, and find it was the company that put bread on their table, not the union. They see Detroit, and understand that the union will not save them, they'll just move to the next opportunity. Acceptance vs rejection. It's a business decision.

Anonymous said...

11:17 Whenever there are significant numbers of black workers the union will use the race angle especially in the south. They ALWAYS say workers are being mistreated, therefore in the south it must be racism. The union will eliminate the racism, right? And they pay the NAACP to back them up. But the strategy ain't working.

Anonymous said...

Union$ are all about the union leader$, not the working people whom they fleece.

Anonymous said...

Kingfish - You failed to notice the keyword, 'real'. You may, but I don't consider publisher and editor to be 'real' private sector jobs any more than I consider a professor at Millsaps to be a real private sector job.

Anonymous said...

KF thinks you need him to define private sector. How haughty.

Anonymous said...

The irony is that organized labor now calls for mass immigration which Harvard studies have proven decrease the wages of black americans

Kingfish said...

Now who is the elitist?

Whatta we want? We don't know. When do we want it? Now! said...

Remember, two years ago, when Bernie Sanders traveled all the way down here to stir up the black community, and, along with a handful of black preachers, tried to convince them all that the dastardly management group at Nissan was functioning as a racist, discriminatory hold-over from Southern plantation days?

Then, dejected, he got his back on a plane and headed back north where he belongs. But, the preachers are still making money race baiting and floating imaginary discriminatory activity.

Anonymous said...

Unions are a from a bye gone era. They only represent 10.8% of all workforce. The contractors that still have to use unionized labor wish they could close their doors. It’s not worth fooling with and the union employees think that the union is greater than God. Just listen to them talk about it. Makes me sick

Anonymous said...

back when the US government didn't get involved in things like: worker safety, worker hours, child labor, minimum wage, health insurance, vacations, overtime/weekend pay--unions were essential. they banded workers together to demand fair treatment from employers.

in 2021, the US Government has statues and regulations that cover what a Union used to. they aren't needed anymore.

Anonymous said...

@11:43 Yes we do need the unions. We need them to remind us that no matter how much we make, no matter how satisfied I may get, I'm still being screwed and it's my turn to screw somebody! Who am I gonna screw? Myself most of the time.

Anonymous said...

These elections are starting to form a pattern. Before I go into the details I will state that I have been through 2 union elections at companies that I worked for (neither of them Amazon or Nissan) and both elections played out pretty much like we see now.

The rules around these elections are actually pretty simple. At a facility such as Amazon (or Nissan before it) a range of jobs are identified as union eligible. The company and the union know how many employees total are in possible union jobs. When 30 percent of those employees fill out a card that says, basically, "I would like to hold an election for a union," an election MUST be held. That's the law. There's no time limit on the cards to be turned in - just keep a running tally.

So, when the percentage of cards starts getting above 15 percent, the union starts sending out daily press releases screaming "WHY won't [company] allow us to vote? What are they afraid of? The simple answer is that not enough employees have turned in "yes" cards yet. But the media never report that.

If the 30 percent is reached, an election is scheduled. Then, in the south, 2 things happen. The company starts issuing regular memos, letters, etc. on how they think unions are bad idea or unnecessary. They usually hold meetings as well to drive home the company view. That is legal. And the union immediately frames it as a black vs. white issue and holds regular demonstrations saying that if the union is not voted it, we go back to Jim Crow or something similar and that black employees who don't want a union also want police killings and segregation. It's a lie, but it's legal as well. Meanwhile, the media report everything the union says as true and assure us that the election is going to be very close and that one reason it might be close is that southerners are pretty dumb historically and don't realize the many positive benefits of union membership. The election, btw, is supervised by federal officials to make sure every i is dotted and t is crossed.

Then the election deadline comes and the union loses by a huge margin. The union immediately claims the company was unfair and that they are filing unfair practice claims with the government. Usually they don't, but we'll see. Then the card collection process begins again.

Anonymous said...

4:47 - Your post is accurate; however, you did leave out the little known fact that 'temps' at a worksite can also vote in union elections.

Another factoid: Every NLRB Judge is a prior NLRB Attorney who previously advocated for NLRA rights and privileges. What if you were a defense attorney and every judge were a prior plaintiff attorney of long standing?

Anonymous said...

In todays economy the union organizing push is based on one false assumption which the workers must quietly accept to make the vote successful: THE COMPANY FACILITY IS TOO BIG TO MOVE. That's it. Workers must somehow ignore the evidence of their own eyes in Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, Pittsburgh
etc. and be so impressed with their facility that they believe it cannot be closed if the company sees a better opportunity elsewhere. Good luck with that in the outskirts of Birmingham where the steel industry was once too big to move.

Anonymous said...

10:13 - I seem to remember a few decades ago when Schwinn Bicycle Company, a union-run corporation in Chicago, was too big to move. Then it closed down in Illinois and moved to Greenville, Mississippi.

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