President Biden Backs Amazon Worker Union Ballot

US President lends his support to Amazon workers in Alabama trying to organise a vote on a trade union, and warns against interference

The upcoming vote by workers in an Amazon warehouse in the United States has drawn support from US President Joe Biden.

At the weekend President Biden in a video announced his support for the workers looking to create a trade union. Although he didn’t mention Amazon by name, he referred to the workers in Alabama, where a milestone union election is underway at an Amazon fullfilment centre in Bessemer.

In December it emerged staff at the warehouse were being asked whether they should unionise and join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The organising committee had conducted a social media campaign, shared union authorisation cards and collected enough to hold the election.

Image credit: Amazon
Image credit: Amazon

Presidential backing

And President Biden appeared to warn Amazon not to deter the workers from the ballot.

“Today and over the next few days and weeks, workers in Alabama, and all across America, are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace,” Biden said in the video.

“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” Biden said. “No supervisor should confront employees about their union preferences. You know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request by CNN for comment.

But the e-commerce giant has already appealed against a ruling by a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) officer to permit 5,800 employees at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, to begin casting ballots by mail to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

Want to know about the history of Amazon? Try our Tales in Tech History piece.

Biden’s intervention is telling, and reflects the high profile nature of the Amazon vote is receiving in the United States.

Democrat support

The vote is being supported from prominent Democrats including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as well as Stacey Abrams, CNN reported. And a group of 50 Congressmen and women reportedly sent a letter last month urging outgoing CEO, Jeff Bezos, to “treat your employees as the critical asset they are, not as a threat to be neutralized or a cost to be minimized.”

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, thanked President Biden “for sending a clear message of support” for the workers.

“As President Biden points out, the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is by organising into unions. And that is why so many working women and men are fighting for a union at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama,” Appelbaum was quoted as saying in a statement.

The vote at the Alabama facility began on 8 February and runs through 29 March.

If successful, Amazon workers at the BHM1 warehouse in Bessemer would be Amazon’s first warehouse in the United States to unionise.

Amazon is second-largest private employer in the United States, behind Walmart, but it reportedly launched an anti-union website targeted at its warehouse workers in Alabama, emphasising union dues to try to dissuade workers from unionising.

Union opposition

Indeed, it is fair to say the e-commerce giant has resisted staff joining unions in the Untied States, and has told workers it already offers the pay and benefits that unions promise.

It has also reportedly trained managers to spot organising activity.

In September 2020 Amazon landed itself in hot water over two job adverts for “intelligence analysts”, who would be responsible for reporting on activities “including labour organising threats against the company.”

Amazon however said the adverts were badly worded and withdrew the adverts, but credence was added to the suspicion it was hiring people to spy on trade unions as the job listings cited previous experience desired for the role, which said “an officer in the intelligence community, the military, law enforcement, or a related global security role in the private sector.”

In October 2020 Amazon said it would respect the rights of workers to join a trade union, after media reports suggested it planned to tracking union activity in its workforce.

Amazon has also previously experienced trade union disruption in France and Germany.

In February 2019, Amazon cancelled plans to build one of its second headquarters in New York, after the e-commerce giant encountered unexpected local opposition to its plans, partly down to its opposing unionisation.