“They have a loudspeaker playing rap and R&B music throughout the day,” said Perry Connolly, 58, a worker who voted for the union, speaking of management. “They’ve got a sign up right now, I guess, for Black History Month. And I hate Black History Month. How are you going to sum up our culture in a month?”
Ballots are being counted in the election, which ended Monday, and results may not be known for days. It’s unclear whether a majority of the 5,805 workers who got ballots will become the first workers at an American Amazon warehouse to unionize — or if the highest-profile labor battle in years, joined by President Biden and embraced by Democrats, will deliver Southern organizers their highest-profile defeat. The company has urged workers to think about their job security and their paychecks; supporters of the drive have asked them to think not just about better working conditions, but about launching a national movement.
“You may not know it, but what you’re doing is historical,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said at a small rally outside the RWDSU’s nearby Birmingham union hall on Friday. “All over this country, people are sick and tired of being exploited, sick and tired of not having the dignity that they deserve.”
Democrats, from Biden to the local party in Alabama, threw their weight behind a campaign with incredibly steep challenges. The Bessemer facility, in a small and mostly Black city 20 miles from Birmingham, has been open for less than a year; Darryl Richardson, a “picker” at the warehouse who spends 10-11 hours per day picking up packages from robots, contacted the RWDSU about conditions there a few months later. In labor terms, the Bessemer facility was a kind of “hot shop,” where some workers began agitating before there was a plan to deal with the inevitable resistance.
(Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The New York-based RWDSU had a fairly small presence in Alabama, and less than 10 full-time employees — supplemented by rank-and-file organizers and by other unions led by the AFL-CIO, but still small. Neither the union nor Amazon has revealed their spending on the campaign, but in conversations with workers leaving the plant, many said that they had voted after a company presentation, before getting canvassed by union organizers.
“If they come in and things get better, that’s a great thing,” said Ashley Beringer, 32, who had left a food- service job for a $15.25 per hour job at Amazon. An “I VOTED” button, provided after she voted against the union, dangled from her lanyard. “If they don’t, time to move on.”
Both Beringer and Connelly are Black, like most of the workers in the warehouse. That was a crucial fact for union organizers. The just-concluded campaign pitched the union drive as an extension of the civil rights movement, a fight for dignity just as vital as the battle to dismantle Jim Crow. The Birmingham chapter of Black Lives Matter threw itself into canvassing; campaigners who arrived to help, such as U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell and anti-poverty campaigner Rev. William Barber, made the linkage explicit.
“Black people have to talk about Black labor and economic injustice,” said Eric Call, the co-founder of the Birmingham BLM chapter. “When you talk about the wealth gap that exists between working-class and rich people, Black people have always been at the bottom. Our involvement is sending a clear message that we’re going to be demanding respect.”
The record for that tactic, in recent Southern union drives, is not good. Four years ago, the United Auto Workers tried to organize a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., with far more prep time than the RWDSU got in Bessemer, and with a similar pitch about the dignity of Black workers. The highest-profile peg of the campaign was “the March on Mississippi,” styled after voting rights marches of the 1960s, with the slogan “workers rights = civil rights.” Like the Bessemer organizers, they drew in Sanders, grabbing national attention. They lost decisively, with just 37 percent of workers at the plant signing a union card.
But a Nissan plant is not an Amazon fulfillment center. The Bessemer drive came during a wave of bipartisan criticism of Amazon — Democrats focusing on the grueling working conditions, Republicans more typically focusing on the company’s “wokeness.” Bezos, the wealthiest man in the world, had grown wealthier during the pandemic, a point critics on the right and left made to demand changes to his business.
“When the conflict is between working Americans and a company whose leadership has decided to wage culture war against working-class values, the choice is easy — I support the workers,” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida wrote this month, becoming the highest-profile Republican to actually support the union drive. Local Republican leaders had weighed in against the UAW when it tried to organize in Mississippi, and before that, battled the UAW’s effort to organize a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.
There was no such intervention in Bessemer. Meanwhile, organizers and the supporters who came in to help were bringing fresh media attention to the conditions at Amazon warehouses, describing them in piercing terms. “Killer” Mike Render, a rapper and activist who traveled to Birmingham with Sanders, used his conversations with workers and his speech at a public rally to compare what he’d heard to what his grandmother had told him about sharecropping, the post-slavery industry that kept impoverished Black workers on land they did not own.
“I heard about the exact conditions that she described to me when working on a field in Tuskegee, Alabama,” said Render, who accused Bezos of belong to a “planter class” of exploitative bosses. “Unrelenting heat. The inability to go use the bathroom in and come back and have a full day’s work. All these things that a woman who worked in a sharecropping field told me are being said by workers here today.”
The odds of organizing the Bessemer plant were long; like many campaigners nervous about the outcome, organizers this weekend argued that defeat here wouldn’t slow them down. In interviews, local RWDSU President Randy Hadley and Alabama Democratic Party Chair Christopher England said that the campaign had brought rare media attention to the workers, and to conditions in the state. Biden’s decision to record a supportive video had helped start more conversations with workers; the union was already emphasizing the number of workers at other Amazon warehouses who had contacted them about organizing. Whatever happened in Alabama, they had a heterodox political coalition to work with and media interest in hearing from workers.
“That’s what it’s going to take to get the labor movement back on track, is to get the communities back involved,” Hadley said.
Biden didn’t involve himself in the Bessemer fight beyond his first video; a visit by the first lady to Birmingham on Friday, which might have driven more attention, was scrapped due to bad weather. (Jill Biden was not expected to visit the warehouse itself.) But after the votes are counted, labor is expecting more from the president, with the first evidence of how much the White House can help a union drive if it puts a little skin in the game.
“You know, before the Biden video, I was questioning it a bit,” Connolly said. “You know: Are we being greedy? Are we being too sentimental or what? Then when he stepped in and gave his speech and it was like, okay, so this isn’t just us. We do have a legitimate gripe and we need things to be better.”
No “key race alerts” or theme music for this one.
How one state’s election system is built for angry elections.
The saga of Big Dan Rodimer.
Big money and a fight for self-preservation.
Democrats go back to the future.
Wait for a gerrymander or try for a six-year term?
The campaign for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District is almost over, with Democrats voting today on their nominee for the Albuquerque-area seat vacated by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — three days after Republicans nominated state Sen. Mark Moores.
Ballots in the Democrats’ all-email election went out this morning, and results will be released later tonight, no later than 9 p.m. in Albuquerque. If no Democrat secures a majority of the vote, the top two candidates will compete again tomorrow. Five of the eight candidates vying for the nomination are Hispanic, two are White, and one, state Rep. Georgene Louis, would be the first Native American to replace a fellow Native American in Congress. There’s little separation on the issues between the best-known candidates, which includes Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, who ran for the seat three years ago.
But in the vote’s final hours, Latino groups warned that the seat would be harder to defend without a Latino candidate.
“The district is majority Latino & the GOP nominee is Latino,” tweeted Mayra Macías, the executive director of the Latino Victory Fund. “We need to ensure the Dem nominee reflects the community. We have some strong Latino candidates running.”
Republicans initially struggled to find a candidate for the seat, which has drifted left over the years — from a 15.7-point victory for Barack Obama in 2012 to a 22.8-point victory last year for his former vice president. Michelle Garcia Holmes, the GOP’s 2020 nominee for the seat, passed on a race; so did Mark Ronchetti, the party’s 2020 U.S. Senate nominee. Both had run a few points ahead of Trump, while losing the district by double digits.
That left an opening for Moores, who jumped into the race just 13 days before the nominating convention. He prevailed over radio host Eddy Aragon, one of the first candidates in the ring, by touting his ability to quickly put a campaign together, saying he’d already raised $250,000 — as much as Garcia Holmes had raised during her entire 2020 bid. (Both candidates, like Garcia Holmes, are Hispanic.) After the vote, Moores dodged a question about the 2020 presidential certification (New Mexico Republicans had offered an “alternate” slate of electors, rejecting the official results), and told reporters he’d offer voters a check on Democratic-run Washington.
“New Mexico has really suffered a lot because of the Biden administration ban on oil and gas drilling,” Moores said. “The radical agenda of the defund-the-police effort has really scared a lot of people, so we’re really going to be talking about that.”
As he echoed the Republican pitch for 2020, there was a challenge for Moores and his party: breaking through in the suburbs. The 1st Congressional District covers part of five counties, anchored by heavily Democratic Bernalillo County, which casts more than 90 percent of the vote. Garcia Holmes triumphed in the four more rural counties by a total 2,196 votes; Haaland romped in Bernalillo County by 54,812 votes. Moores won narrowly last year, even as President Donald Trump lost his northeast Albuquerque district, running 11 points ahead of the former president.
Democrats, despite their gains in the district, remain wary of a potential upset. Just months into Barack Obama’s presidency, they lost Albuquerque city hall for the first time in decades, as two squabbling Democrats split the vote and Republican Richard J. Berry became mayor. In 1997, the last time a New Mexican was elevated to the Cabinet, Republicans won the neighboring 3rd Congressional District thanks to a strong Green Party campaign that sapped Democratic votes.
There’s no such dissension, yet, and no other liberals on the ballot. Libertarians selected activist Chris Manning as their nominee over the weekend, and former commissioner of public lands Aubrey Dunn, a Republican-turned-Libertarian-turned-independent, is competing for the seat, writing on Facebook this week that “political parties suck.” (MMA trainer Greg Jackson flirted with an independent run but opted against it.)
In Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District, Baton Rouge activist Gary Chambers came close to an upset this month, winning 21.3 percent of the vote in the all-party primary, far higher than his support in public polls. While most coverage of the race had characterized it as a battle between state Sens. Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson, Chambers came close to surpassing Carter Peterson and grabbing a spot in the April 24 runoff.
Chambers officially endorsed Carter Peterson on Monday, releasing a short video decrying the organizations “who said that Gary can’t win” before explaining why he was taking sides in the runoff.
“For me to sit out of it — what would be the difference between me and all the national organizations who sat out on us, and we came 1500 votes short?” Chambers explained. “She’s not perfect, and she’s not me, but she is a progressive fighter who will go to D.C. and champion the issues that are important to us.”
Among those issues: the Green New Deal, which Carter Peterson supports and Carter does not, citing the potential impact of a fast green energy transition on Louisiana workers.
Approve: 72% (+4 from early March)
Disapprove: 28% (-4)
Migrant situation on the border
The Biden presidency has focused intensely on the coronavirus, shrugging off news cycles about nearly every other topic, including the surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. That has worked so far, in a period when voters tend to be forgiving of a new president. (Before Donald Trump, presidents typically cruised above 50 percent approval in their first 100 days.) But Republicans have the advantage on the issues they’ve focused most on, especially immigration. Other Ipsos polling has found the salience of that issue far below voter interest in coronavirus recovery — the border has become a top issue for Republicans, but not for independents and Democrats. That arrangement has kept Biden above water, for now.
Already did: 47% (+18 from early March)
Yes, I will: 42% (-16)
No: 9% (-2)
Already did: 35% (+16)
Yes, I will: 35% (-9)
Already did: 33% (+9)
Yes, I will: 23% (-9)
No: 36% (-5)
In the past few weeks, as the vaccination schedule has ramped up, some Republican-dominated states have made the product more available more quickly for a simple reason: Republicans are least likely to want it. Marist’s tracking has found Biden’s approval rating hanging steady above 50 percent, and while “immigration” is his weakest issue, it has emerged so quickly that the pollster didn’t even ask about it three weeks ago. The trends on vaccination are clearer: Democrats and liberal independents are racing for shots; Republicans are moving more slowly. The highest level of vaccine skepticism comes, not surprisingly, from Trump voters, 40 percent of whom say they won’t choose the vaccine. The political mismatch could shape two political dramas: Republican frustration that Trump is not getting credit for the vaccine rollout, and Republican voter anger at the idea of “vaccine passports” that would restrict what vaccine resisters can do.
End Citizens United, “People Win.” The campaign finance reform-focused Democratic PAC has joined the air war over H.R. 1, the Democrats’ For the People Act, responding to GOP-linked advertising in swing states. Ads like this are going up in Arizona, Georgia, Maine, Alaska, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire and Nevada, a mix of states with Democratic senators who might be less committed to passing the bill by breaking the filibuster and states (chiefly Maine and Alaska) with Republicans who the group believes it can pressure.
Republican-allied ads have portrayed the bill as a grab for power by Democrats who would allow noncitizens to vote or direct taxpayer money to negative ads. ECU’s commercials focus on the bill’s “ethics rules” and emphasize “secure” elections. “We need to make sure that they are getting the support and the air cover that they need,” ECU’s Tiffany Muller said in an interview, “because we’re seeing the Republicans’ dark money groups come in and spread misinformation about this bill.”
Josh Mandel, “Faith.” The former Ohio state treasurer plunged into the 2022 U.S. Senate race in the state as a fighter for Donald Trump, questioning the results of the presidential election. His first paid advertising takes a dramatically softer tone, invoking the Easter holiday to talk about how his Jewish ancestors came to America. “My grandma was saved from the Nazis by a network of courageous Christians who risked their lives to save hers,” Mandel says. “Without their faith, I’m not here today.” It’s a dramatic way to talk about the “Judeo-Christian” values Mandel has emphasized to social conservatives.
Democracy in disarray
Whoa, if coup. Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson are best known as “Diamond and Silk,” a political comedy and commentary team who make fun of liberals and praise Trump. They warmed up crowds at Trump rallies, scored White House invites — including one where they prayed over the former president — and were defended by Trump after their coronavirus conspiracy theories nixed their Fox Nation show.
They also are curious whether there’s a way for the president to be overthrown by the military. In a segment last week on the conservative channel Real America’s Voice, the two media personalities speculated that “from a national security standpoint,” Biden and the rest of Democratic leadership could not remain in power.
“Listen, I wish that the military would step in and take over,” Hardaway said. “Larry, Curley, and Moe need go somewhere, sit down, and allow the military to take over from here.” When host David Brody followed up, Hardaway added that the country’s elected leadership might need to “to get to the bottom of what the American people saw in the 2020 elections,” and Richardson chimed in to urge “somebody to come in with some common sense and take over.”
It was just one segment, but it wasn’t a unique sentiment. Ten weeks into Biden’s presidency, the idea that he lacks legitimacy and might well be replaced keeps bubbling up in the outskirts of conservative media. Their deadlines keep changing, but the theme remains the same.
“Donald Trump will be back in office in August,” MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell said on a podcast hosted by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, reiterating a theory he shared with Arizona conservatives at a rally this month. “All of the evidence I have, everything that is going to go before the Supreme Court, and the election of 2020 is going bye-bye.”
Both comments were first highlighted by Right Wing Watch, a project of People for the American Way, which notes the most head-turning moments from figures on the right who liberals usually ignore. Neither is realistic. But both “Diamond and Silk” and Lindell were elevated in Republican politics by Trump, and the idea that Biden lacks legitimacy for some reason or another is out there.
Two, three, many Murkowskis. Nick Troiano has been tilting against the two-party system for years, with more disappointments than successes. In 2012, he tried to nominate a moderate presidential candidate on the banner of Americans Elect, a new party that never went anywhere. In 2013, he published a book arguing for a “Centrist Party.” In 2014, he ran for Congress in Pennsylvania as an independent, and lost.
Since then, through his group Unite America, Troiano has poked around for ways to depolarize politics; his latest project is getting more states to embrace top-two primaries, pointing out that turnout in at least two states that have them (California and Washington) has been far higher than turnout in states that hold traditional partisan primaries. On Tuesday, Troiano launched a new report on the “primary problem,” arguing that so many districts had been gerrymandered as safely partisan than 83 percent of them were basically decided by a primary.
“I think we’ll see more states like Wisconsin where bipartisan legislation was introduced with this concept just last week,” Troiano said in an interview. “A key aspect of this is that we don’t need to win this reform every day for it to have a dramatic impact in Congress.”
The momentum for primary changes is inconsistent from state to state. Troiano pointed to Florida, where 57 percent of voters backed a top-two primary measure (all parties compete; the top two head to a general election) in 2020. It wasn’t enough to meet the state’s 60 percent threshold for passage, but it got more support than any candidate for president had in Florida since the 1980s. At the same time, Louisiana’s dominant GOP — they hold every major office except the governor’s mansion — is debating whether to end the top-two primary, in part, to make sure conservatives come out on top more frequently.
That’s Troiano’s point. Top-two produced Sen. Bill Cassidy, the only Southern Republican who voted to convict Trump in this year’s impeachment trial; it is seen as the major reason Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who has drawn a challenger since her own conviction vote, is seen to have a clear path to reelection.
“I think what’s interesting about Alaska is that primary reform can reward leaders, rather than punish them, for taking politically courageous stands,” Troiano said. “Sen. Murkowski has shown that she’s willing to do that. Our hope is that as nonpartisan primaries may be adopted by other states, they will liberate more leaders from the threat of being primaried from the extremes.”
Meet a PAC
What it is: 314 Action Fund, a nonprofit organization founded in 2016 to elect scientists to office.
What it’s doing: At the moment, Run Amy Run, a campaign to encourage Amy Acton, Ohio’s former director of the state Department of Health, to run for U.S. Senate in 2022. The group has conducted polling to test Acton in a Democratic primary, and to argue that she’s the most electable Democrat who might make the race.
What it’s spending: The fund claims to be ready for a $5 million campaign, unusually large for a single PAC in a Senate primary, and 10 percent of what the group says it’ll invest in 2020. “With no potential candidate having a significant cash advantage to start the race, 314 Action Fund’s $5 million pledge in the primary positions Amy as the clear front-runner,” the group’s spokesman John Sweeney explained in its latest poll announcement, which found Acton viewed far more favorably than Rep. Tim Ryan, a fellow northeast Ohio Democrat.
Why it matters: Democrats have gone nearly winless in Ohio since 2014, with even Sen. Sherrod Brown’s 2018 victory revealing losses in traditionally Democratic eastern Ohio. Ryan, who has floated multiple statewide runs but never made one, has won his seat by shrinking margins, and was overly optimistic on Biden’s chances in the state — but he has captured more national buzz than Acton, in part because his district might be obliterated by a gerrymander.
… seven days until off-year elections in Wisconsin
… 25 days until the runoff in Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District
… 32 days until the special primary in Texas’s 6th Congressional District
… 39 days until the GOP nominating convention in Virginia
… 63 days until the special election in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District
… 70 days until primaries in New Jersey and Virginia
… 84 days until New York City’s primary
… 126 days until the special primary in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District