The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) represents more than 100,000 members and workers in the United States. RWDSU supports and promotes labor and unionizing rights by mobilizing its support for workers around the country seeking to organize and fight for fair representation in the workplace and a fair deal for workers. Since 2020, RWDSU has been organizing alongside workers at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Bessemer, Alabama to win a union.
As the RWDSU continues to support the workers in Bessemer mired in a struggle for equity and fairness, the need for effective and efficient organizing has become more necessary than ever. As part of this organizing effort, the RWDSU campaign at the Bessemer facility relies on Action Builder, a tool built by and for organizers.
To learn more about how activists have used Action Builder, I talked with Adam Obernauer and Brienne Ellis from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Adam is the Director of the Retail Organizing Project at RWDSU and was the Campaign Director for RWDSU’s campaign in Bessemer. Brienne is a researcher at RWDSU and Data Director for the Bessemer campaign. Adam and Brienne discussed the organizing process so far and how they have relied on Action Builder to find success during their campaign.
Adam and Brienne shared a lot about their experience using Action Builder during RWDSU’s campaign to secure a union for Amazon workers in Bessemer. I am grateful to have the opportunity to connect with Action Builder partners, like Adam and Brienne, and learn from their work and experiences; so, without further ado, here’s what Adam and Brienne had to share…
How is Action Builder being used in RWDSU’s campaign at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bessemer?
“There is very little that Action Builder did not touch during the campaign,” Brienne told me. “We were using Action Builder for list management and turf cutting. We had a massive training program where we trained 150 organizers over the course of the campaign on how to use Action Builder. We also used Action Builder in the vote challenge process. There’s very little that Action Builder didn’t impact in some way.”
During the campaign, Adam, Brienne, and the worker activists and staff organizers working alongside them in Bessemer depended on Action Builder to keep track of individual workers and the campaign overall. The RWDSU’s Bessemer campaign had to reach more than six thousand workers—no easy feat to keep organized. All the while, Action Builder gave Adam and Brienne the tools necessary to keep track of their progress.
Action Builder helped give organizers confidence that individual activists, small groups, and the entire RWDSU campaign could all complete their work effectively, even during a fast-paced, stressful, and time-sensitive campaign in Bessemer. An easy-to-use interface made if possible for Adam and Brienne to train 150 organizers on the Action Builder toolset, helping to quickly and effectively scale up organizing efforts.
“It would have been unmanageable to do what we did with the amount of people we had,” Adam Obernauer shared with me. “Having the ability to cut turf instantly, if and when we needed, was very helpful. The ability to cut turf to specifically target Organizing Committee members, or workers not yet assessed, or any supporters, was really helpful.”
How easy was it to jump in and use Action Builder? What were some of the challenges?
“The bulk of organizers who came onto the campaign, they typically got about an hour to an hour and a half of hands-on, in-person training. We were trying to keep things as simple as possible,” recalled Brienne.
In a campaign made up of more than six thousand activists, taking the time to train 150 organizers to use any tool would be a big ask. Yet, without the luxury of time and with the burden of stress and an unfair process looming overhead, Action Builder helped Adam, Brienne, and thousands of activists alongside the RWDSU keep on top of their efforts during the organizing process. The most crucial part of the process for the campaign was training their organizers:
“Decisions had to be made on the fly, and it’s a testament to Action Builder being flexible, because we were able to onboard, in just six weeks, over a hundred organizers. It had to happen like that,” Brienne told me.
For the RWDSU campaign alongside the workers at Amazon’s facility in Bessemer, Action Builder’s accessible interface allowed for new organizers to jump into their tasks without fear of getting lost in the weeds of an overly complicated organizing program.
Brienne discussed some of these fears and challenges of running such a large organizing effort:
“Surprisingly, data was not messed up, which was a really big fear, you know, having a hundred people who have never seen our database before suddenly go out into the field at once. The fact that we got folks to onboard in such a short span of time is amazing.”
What is one Action Builder feature that you think was surprisingly crucial to this campaign?
Brienne appreciated one of the little things about Action Builder: “I would highlight the ability to set default responses on tasks.” Adam and Brienne agreed, and shared that using the auto-response feature made typically time-consuming tasks like the ballot challenge process more manageable.
The RWDSU’s campaign with the workers at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Bessemer, via their use of the auto-response feature or by using live turf cutting to direct their organizing and direct action, have used Action Builder in varied and creative ways to organize as efficiently and effectively as possible. This is true especially considering how much they completed, onboarding 150 organizers and rallying more than 6,000 activists in just six weeks.
Action Builder proved to be an impactful part of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union’s campaign to promote successful, free, and fair unionization efforts in Bessemer. This, especially, highlights how our Action Builder partners have not only learned the ins and outs of Action Builder’s toolset, but have also adapted the different Action Builder tools to build creative solutions for their unique challenges.
Thank you, Adam and Brienne, for sharing your work and experiences with me. Action Builder is proud to see how how our toolset helped power the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s campaign in Bessemer, Alabama to stand up against unfair labor practices and build labor power.
Learn more about the RWDSU:
Follow up on the Amazon worker’s efforts and the RWDSU campaign in Bessemer: