Bessemer Amazon Fulfillment Center

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The Bessemer Amazon Fulfillment Center (called BHM1 internally) is an 850,000 square-foot warehouse and fulfillment center constructed by Amazon on a 133-acre site near Bessemer City High School at 975 Powder Plant Road in Bessemer.

Recruitment of Amazon and the negotiation of public incentives took place under the code name "Project Bluebird". Partners in the deal included the Alabama Department of Commerce, Alabama Department of Transportation, Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT), the Jefferson County Commission, the City of Bessemer, the Bessemer Industrial Development Board, the Birmingham Business Alliance and the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority, along with the Alabama Power Company and Spire. Cushman & Wakefield and EGS Commercial Real Estate were involved in the sale of the property, formerly owned by U.S. Steel.

In May 2018 the right-of-way for Old Powder Plant Road was abandoned and the property was rezoned for industrial uses. Announcement of the $325 million development project followed in June. The fulfillment center was expected to employ around 1,500 workers at an average wage of $14 per hour.

Gray Construction broke ground for the fulfillment center in October 2018 for an expected Summer 2019 opening. A number of officials toured the unopened facility in May 2019. In March the retailer announced that while construction was on schedule, the opening of the center would be delayed until some time in 2020 based on demand. The center opened in April, coinciding with increased demand for mail-order products during the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic.

RWDSU reps promoting unionization of the Bessemer Amazon Fulfillment Center

Sorting and stocking of merchandise is largely carried out by hundreds of robots. The various areas in the fulfillment center are connected by 22 miles of conveyor belts.

A planned expansion of Amazon's Bessemer operations, dubbed "Project Church", would have added a 278,400-square-foot sorting facility on an adjoining 50-acre site. Those plans advanced to the point that construction permits were issued, but were withdrawn in 2021 in the context of a campaign to unionize workers at the facility.

Unionization efforts

In 2020 workers at the Bessemer Amazon Fulfillment Center voted on whether to seek representation as part of the Mid-South Council of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union. Organizers dubbed the campaign "BAmazon Union".

5,867 workers were recognized as comprising the facility's bargaining unit. Of those, 3,215 (54.8%) cast ballots by mail between February 8 and March 29 of that year. After verifying that the contested ballots would not change the outcome, it was announced that the result of the election was not to unionize, by a margin of 1,798 to 738.

RWDSU representatives appealed that result to the National Labor Relations Board. Region 10 Director, Lisa Henderson issued a ruling in November that another vote would be held, subject to an appeal. The re-vote was scheduled for February 4March 25, 2022. Just prior to the balloting, an organizer filed a complaint that a supervisor was not complying with the settlement agreement. Another complaint, filed in March, alleged further violations of labor law by the company.

A February 2022 public opinion poll of 1,000 Jefferson County residents conducted by New South Research for the Washington D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies found that 62% support unionization of the company's local facilities.

2,375 ballots were returned from 6,153 eligible workers in February, showing a lower participation rate (38.6%) than the 2020 election. NLRB officials certified and counted them on March 28. After that count, the second election brought the same result, but by a much slimmer margin of 993 to 875. A hearing to determine if any of an additional 416 contested ballots should be counted was held later.

References

  • Holloway, Seth (May 17, 2018) "Bessemer Approves Zoning For 855,000 Square Foot Facility Off Powder Plant Road. What is coming ????" [sic] The Cutoff News
  • "Amazon Chooses Bessemer, Alabama for Fulfillment Center." (June 25, 2018) Area Development
  • Koplowitz, Howard (March 18, 2019) "Amazon delays opening of Bessemer fulfillment center; may not launch until 2020." The Birmingham News
  • Thornton, William (May 9, 2019) "‘Awe-inspiring’ Amazon center taking shape in Bessemer." The Birmingham News
  • Thornton, William (April 16, 2020) "Amazon up and running in Bessemer, and still hiring" The Birmingham News
  • Sheets, Connor (November 23, 2020) "Bessemer Amazon warehouse workers take official step toward unionizing." The Birmingham News
  • Day, Matt & Spencer Soper (December 18, 2020) "How Amazon drove Alabama warehouse workers to unionize." Bloomberg News / The Birmingham News
  • Corkery, Michael & Karen Weise (January 25, 2021) "Amazon Union Drive Takes Hold in Unlikely Place." The New York Times
  • Harris, Mary (February 11, 2021) "The Amazon Warehouse Union Vote in Alabama Is a Big Deal" Slate
  • Thornton, William (March 3, 2021) "4 Amazon workers speak out against union in company media event." The Birmingham News
  • Van der Bijl, Hanno (June 7, 2021) "Amazon cancels potential expansion of Bessemer campus." Birmingham Business Journal
  • Selyukh, Alina & Stephen Bisaya (August 2, 2021) "Amazon Warehouse Workers In Alabama May Get To Vote Again On Union" All Things Considered/NPR.org
  • Thornton, William (August 2, 2021) "NLRB election official recommends new union election at Amazon in Bessemer." The Birmingham News
  • Thornton, William (September 1, 2021) "Black Lives Matter backs Bessemer Amazon union effort: ‘We’re not backing down’." The Birmingham News
  • Thornton, William (November 4, 2021) "Amazon, union readying for another fight in Bessemer." The Birmingham News
  • Thornton, William (November 30, 2021) "Amazon made ‘free and fair’ Bessemer union election ‘impossible,’ labor official rules." The Birmingham News
  • Thornton, William (January 25, 2022) "Union: Bessemer Amazon supervisor warned organizer not to talk to employees; unfair labor practice charge filed." The Birmingham News
  • Thornton, William (February 22, 2022) "Union: Amazon interfering in second Bessemer election." The Birmingham News
  • Thornton, William (February 23, 2022) "Majority of Jefferson County residents support Amazon union, survey says." The Birmingham News
  • Thornton, William (March 30, 2022) "Turnout for second Bessemer Amazon union vote lower than first." The Birmingham News
  • Thornton, William (March 31, 2022) "Amazon apparently wins second Bessemer union vote count." The Birmingham News