“From Faurecia to Amazon, it’s a big pay difference,” said Mr. Richardson, who now makes $15.55.
Heather Knox, an Amazon spokeswoman, said that workers in Bessemer were eligible for raises every six months and that they had received a $2-an-hour bonus during much of last spring. Full-time rank-and-file employees received $300 bonuses during the holiday season and $500 last June. The company also provides significant tuition reimbursement for employees who take classes in certain fields.
Some workers at the Bessemer facility, which opened just as Covid-19 was bearing down last March, regard the pay as more than adequate, especially younger employees.
“I feel like it is fair,” said Roderick Crocton, 24, who previously made $11.25 as an overnight stocker at a local retailer. “In my old job, I lived in my apartment, never got to go anywhere, paid my bills. Today I’m able to go out and experience being in the city.”
But other workers emphasize that pay at Amazon isn’t particularly high for the Birmingham area, even if the pandemic has reduced their job options. An Amazon employee named Clint, a union backer who declined to give his last name for fear of retaliation, said he had stood to make about $40,000 a year installing satellite dishes before the pandemic left him unemployed. He said he made his finances work partly by living with his mother.
The retail workers’ union said it represented employees at nearby warehouses where pay is $18 to $21 an hour, including an ice cream facility and a grocery warehouse not far from Amazon.
At a plant owned by NFI Group, a Canadian bus manufacturer, about an hour east of Birmingham, hourly pay for rank-and-file workers ranges from $14.79 to $23.31, according to the company.
A survey of about 100 workers at the NFI plant by Emily Erickson, a professor at Alabama A&M University, found that white workers earned about $3 an hour more than Black workers on average. One former employee who currently works for a labor advocacy group in the area, Charles Crooms, said this made it more difficult to persuade white workers to join a union organizing effort. (The company said all employees with the same job grade and tenure were paid the same.)