The Illegal Busting of a Legal Union Movement
I am staring at the blank page of my computer, sure of what to write, yet not of how to say it. Frozen by all of the times before when I attempted to advocated for myself and/or others, only to be shot down for being too aggressive, to angry, to loud, or not loud enough.
“When you speak to our CEO about race in America, make sure you keep the reader in mind.You don’t want to turn off the reader.” I was told during a fellowship training on race, when I was still a junior high teacher at Summit Public Schools, a charter school network out of California and Washington State.
Even now I contemplate my ultimate goal. Hoping you, my reader are willing to read this in its entirety. My experience as a black woman in America is that I must not only understand every nuance of every point that falls from my lips, but I must also be aware of the proper accent in which to deliver it, the code switch that will unlock access to my audiences’ ears...to their empathy.
My goal is get our country to care about labor again, to care about unions and the importance of a powerful uncorrupted union presence as a stabilizing force within our society. Its not sexy. So I ask that we hold to the idea that, justice for one is justice for all.
I am currently an Amazon delivery driver, out of the Richmond, CA warehouse, attempting to unionize my warehouse. If you listen to the PR machine of Jeff Bezos, they will say we, the organizers are greedy, that we are thieves and liars. He will tell you that he pays us well and if we wanted to move up in the company we could. We are just “unskilled workers”.
Putting aside that many of my colleagues including myself are college educated, and have owned their own businesses in the past, since when does not having a college degree mean one should be subjected to slave wages? When our CEO is on track to becoming the world's first trillionaire. When he has gobbled up every smaller business in his wake, owns 17+ mansions; he may want to re-evaluate the true meaning of gluttony and greed.
For far too many years our government has allowed both corporations and our own social services to get away with basing their outreach to the poor on a Federal Poverty Level. That may not seem like a big deal when you live in Middle America, where the cost of living aligns with the lower to average cost of living within our country. But, if you live in Washington DC, New York City, or the San Fransisco Bay Area, like myself, it leaves you high and dry and without a safety net of any kind.
I argue that by allowing corporations to base wages on our national poverty level, they are helping corporations like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Uber, Minted, etc, by artificially lowering wages, and the lack of competition is aided by union busting.
When Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying,“ If you ask my competitors, you will find that a $15 an hour minimum
wage is actually very competitive.”
That sounds like a verbal call to action to other CEO’s that says, “let’s go no higher.” He believes we are too dumb to hear it and too afraid to call it out if we do.
My question is who is it competitive with? When $100 thousand dollars a year is considered low income in the Bay Area, $15 an hour merely keeps us on food stamps. Gas in the Bay area is between $3.00 - $4.00+ a gallon.The median rent for a two bedroom apartment is $2500 a month. Californians pay
s more taxes to the federal government, yet get nothing in return for our homelessness epidemic. Even our milk and groceries are more expensive than in many other states.
As I watch the civil unrest over the death of George Floyd, what strikes me so intensely is how our police can have such contempt over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill (at least that is the excuse). Wage theft accounts for more damages than all other types of theft combined, and yet, when white collar crimes are committed, there is no movement. No police are sent to the homes of CEO’s. As we speak $500 million dollars in stimulus bailout money is being distributed to corporations and CEOs without any oversight. That is our money! When most billionaire CEOs pay little to no taxes, how are they entitled to the money that we earned form our sweat, from the bruises, and pain of our bodies?
When I was little, as a mixed race black girl with a white mom, my mom would tell me, "You were born with a gold star over your head. You can be anything you want. That is the great thing about our country."
I would leave to face to world believing those words. America would soon show me that as a black girl growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, the promise, my mom wanted to believe was mine, was not meant for me.
The war on drugs ripped the men from our communities, and addicted our parents left and right. As the remnants of the “Peace & Love” generation ended in broken families and divorce. I watched as Gangster Rap unleashed outcries for help, and then was weaponized against us by our government to scare white America and maintain control over their votes.
But, I also watched as my generation said, “not me.” We saw what crack did, and we chose another route. We educated ourselves, many times without role models. We started businesses. We raised our own families and reached back to care for our elders who had been criminalized for their addiction. As a Gen X baby, I feel perfectly poised to say to my government, "If you continue to fail to do your job, then we will find a way, in spite of you, to make a better life for our people."
The Great Union Comeback
Organizing a union in our warehouse is legal. Firing us, suspending us, intimidating us for organizing is illegal. Those are just the facts. Yet, our government is so deeply entrenched in the pockets of multinational corporations, that the illegal union busting is ignored. This forces workers underground, making organizers' jobs harder, more stressful, and more dangerous. This behavior has to change. Until I begin to see high-powered CEOs serve time for their illegalities, I will never believe that our politicians are representatives of the people.That goes for both sides.
My hope is that in this new generation, we can avoid the unnecessary loss of life. Lives are already being lost at Amazon. Between the safety violations in the warehouses and on the road for drivers, interference in workers compensation cases, and withholding the number of COVID-19 cases, too many Amazonian lives have already been lost.
People need to believe that they are powerful and worthy of better treatment. Jeff Bezos knows what he is doing when he moves his warehouses into communities like Richmond, CA or San Leandro, CA. He is banking on the fact that the vulnerable populations, single moms like myself, the elderly, the formerly incarcerated, those with only a GED, will come in so beat down and disenfranchised, that we will never advocate for our right to humane treatment. He is hoping that America has already trained us to “know our place.”
Amazon wants us to be so grateful for any crumbs tossed our way, that we will not say, “I am uncomfortable with the constant surveillance by my employer,” or “I deserve PTO, if I need time off to have a baby or care of a sick relative,” or “I am not going in the customer’s backyard. It is unsafe.”
Amazon assumes we that we don’t know it is illegal to require an unpaid 30 minute meeting before every shift, or require that drivers complete uncompensated off-the-clock work within their Mentor app.
I shouldn’t have to be educated to be treated humanely and with dignity. When a baby is born, we don’t allow it to be abused simply because it cannot advocate for itself. So too, should we treat the most vulnerable populations among us. Every human being has inherent worth and dignity.
We need new policies that recognize if more taxes were paid into our society, then the social entities like schools, hospitals, and social workers could do the jobs they were trained to do. Real investments in our communities would provide resources and opportunities in the place of criminalization and exploitation.
The same people that hold board member positions on charter school networks also hold seats on the boards of for-profit prisons, and their biggest donors are CEOs and corporations who don’t pay taxes and benefit from an oppressed underclass. The question must be asked if the school to prison pipeline has become a business model. Is price fixing and wage fixing just a means of feeding the machine? In which case, we are all just products?
I cannot fix all of societies woes. Although the phrase black girl magic has become popular recently , this black girl is not magic. At the end of the day I am only human. All I can do is my little part. My part will be to unionize my warehouse. I have prayed long and hard for humility, wisdom, and strong trustworthy alliances along the way.
-Here Goes Nothing!