About 30 people gathered outside the Amazon-owned Whole Foods grocery store in West Ashley Saturday to voice solidarity with the mega-retailer’s Alabama warehouse workers who are seeking to organize a labor union in the Deep South.
As part of a national day of solidarity organized by the Southern Workers Assembly, Charleston activists, organized by the local Democratic Socialists of America chapter, stood at the corner of Savannah Highway and Farmfield Avenue starting at 1 p.m.
Workers at an Amazon distribution warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, are in the process of a mail-in vote to decide if they want the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to represent them. The effort has reportedly been underway since last summer at the warehouse, which employs 5,800 people, according to The New York Times.
“Warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, of all places, have taken these very bold steps to try to establish a union, and given the deep history anti-unionism, they can use all the support they can get,” said Kerry Taylor, the president of the Charleston Alliance for Fair Employment (C.A.F.E.). “They’re fighting for better wages and working conditions.”
Carrying signs asking drivers to “honk if you love unions,” masked activists gathered outside the Whole Foods were greeted with a fair amount of support. Those who appeared opposed to the workers’ organizing pointed middle fingers and thumbs in different directions. One critical driver yelled out his window, only to have his hat blown off his head.
Organizers said Whole Foods employees at Charleston-area stores were told about the protest and police were briefed beforehand, but there was no visible law enforcement presence.
The Charleston rally was one of seven in the Carolinas listed on supportamazonworkers.org, the website used by organizers to publicize the events. Another event is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at the Amazon fulfillment center in Columbia — the closest major warehouse to Charleston.
The national organizer of the events, the Southern Workers Assembly, is a coalition of unions, workers groups and organizing committees that works to build support for union organizing.
In South Carolina, where Republican leaders routinely brag about the absence of collective bargaining, the state workforce has the nation’s lowest unionization rate and the 43rd-lowest per capita income. Just 2.9% of the state’s 2.14 million workers belong to labor unions.
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