Labor Groups And Progressives Urge Biden To Support Amazon Union Drive

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Dave Jamieson
·Labor Reporter, HuffPost
·4 min read
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Unions and progressive groups are increasing their pressure on President Joe Biden’s administration to come out in support of Amazon workers in Alabama who are trying to unionize.

A coalition of more than three dozen organizations sent a letter to the White House on Thursday urging the president to publicly voice his solidarity with the warehouse workers. Co-signatories to the letter included Unite Here, a union of 300,000 service workers; the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents 50,000 airline attendants; and the Maine affiliate of the AFL-CIO labor federation.

The coalition said the Amazon workers were taking a brave step and “deserve the backing of not just all Americans, but specifically their federal government.”

“One of the most important things a president can do to help working people is to have their backs when they challenge corporate power, providing public support to the idea that Americans have a right to bargain collectively for better working conditions,” the letter reads.

The letter was spearheaded by the American Economic Liberties Project, a non-profit focused on anti-monopoly policies, and People’s Action, a network of community groups. Other progressive groups that signed on include the Working Families Party, Public Citizen, the Economic Policy Institute and the National Employment Law Project.

The organizations reminded Biden that he promised to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen.”

One of the most important things a president can do to help working people is to have their backs when they challenge corporate power. Letter to Biden from progressive groups

Nearly 6,000 workers in Bessemer, Alabama, are currently voting to determine whether they will join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. It is the most closely watched union election in years, with high stakes for Amazon and organized labor, since it could create the first unionized workforce within the company’s U.S. operations.

Amazon has rolled out an aggressive anti-union campaign, holding meetings with workers, sending out mailers and putting signs up around the warehouse urging them to vote “no.” The RWDSU has countered with a campaign of roughly 100 organizers contacting workers on the ground and by phone.

As HuffPost reported earlier this week, the Biden administration has steered clear of explicitly endorsing the union effort, despite the president’s more general support for unions and collective bargaining. The president tweeted earlier this month that employers should “ensure their workers have a free and fair choice to join a union,” but did not name Amazon.

Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU’s president, recently told HuffPost that the administration should demonstrate “its support for unionization.”

“This is the largest campaign in many years, and this is a great opportunity for the administration to show working people what’s important to them,” he said.

A White House spokesperson told HuffPost earlier this week that the president encourages collective bargaining and urges employers not to run anti-union campaigns, although the administration would not address the Amazon election directly.

US President Joe Biden speaks before signing an executive order on securing critical supply chains on Feb. 24. (Photo: SAUL LOEB via Getty Images)
US President Joe Biden speaks before signing an executive order on securing critical supply chains on Feb. 24. (Photo: SAUL LOEB via Getty Images)

Biden has called for increased penalties on companies that try to illegally bust unions. One of his first moves as president was to fire the Trump-appointed general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, who had pursued policies unions viewed as hostile to collective bargaining.

Still, many progressives have said they would like to see the president speak up about the Amazon union campaign and the company’s response to it. Some have invoked Franklin Roosevelt’s support for unionization as the benchmark Biden should strive for. Presidents can send important symbolic messages on collective bargaining, the way Ronald Reagan’s firing of the air-traffic controllers may have emboldened companies to fend off union drives.

In the letter sent to the White House on Thursday, the groups noted Amazon has seen tremendous growth during the pandemic, and said the company “has shared barely any of that largesse with its workers, even as they have put their own health at risk to help earn those profits.” The letter cited Amazon’s well-known “time off task” policy, which workers say makes it difficult to take breaks, and the rising injury rates in its warehouses reported by Reveal.

“Instead of owning up to these issues and correcting them, Amazon has misled the public and lawmakers, and corrupted local officials into turning a blind eye to its transgressions,” the letter reads.

Max Gleber, an Amazon spokesperson, said in an email Wednesday that the company “already offers” what labor groups are demanding, including a starting wage of $15.30 and health benefits.

“We don’t believe the RWDSU represents the majority of our employees’ views,” Gleber said. “Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.”

The Amazon workers are now in the middle of a seven-week mail-in election, in which the union needs a simple majority of votes cast in order to win and become the workers’ representative. Ballots are set to be counted on March 30.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.