President Joe Biden considers himself a union man “from the belt buckle to the sole of the shoe, ”As he likes to say. In his campaign talks and policy proposalsBiden has made it clear that he believes all American workers would be better off if more of them had union cards. And some of the first actions he took in office supported unions and collective bargaining.
But now that Amazon workers in an Alabama warehouse are voting in the highest-profile union election in years, the White House has stood aside from backing unionizing there. The relative silence of management has not gone unnoticed at the Retail, Wholesale and Large Stores Union (RWDSU), which hopes to represent workers at the retail giant’s fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama.
“I think it is important that the administration shows its support for organizing during this campaign,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU, in an interview with HuffPost. “This is the largest campaign in many years and it is a great opportunity for the administration to show workers what is important to them.”
Amazon doesn’t have unionized warehouses in the US and would like to keep it that way. The company has launched an aggressive counter-campaign to dissuade the roughly 6,000 workers from joining the RWDSU in a seven-week mail-in election. Amazon’s anti-union message even follows workers in the bathrooms, where the posters urge them to vote “no.”
The retailer’s captive audience meetings and anti-union literature have sparked reproach from Democrats in both the House and Senate, as well as some indirect criticism from the White House. Biden tweeted in early February that the policy of the US government is to encourage collective bargaining and that employers should ensure that workers have “a free and fair choice to join a union. ”
However, he did not call Amazon by name.
“This is your chance to put a bet on the ground,” said Erica Iheme, a Birmingham native and southern director of Jobs to Move America, a group that works to improve the quality of jobs in Alabama. “He can say, ‘This is where our administration is.’
Reuters reported Earlier this month, union leaders had tried to enlist the support of White House officials for the effort.
This is the largest campaign in many years and is a great opportunity for management to show workers what is important to them.
Stuart Appelbaum, President, RWDSU
A supportive tweet from the president might not sway workers’ votes But it could alert a company like Amazon to potential retaliation and make a strong statement about management’s values. It would also set a new marker for a Democratic president when it comes to publicly supporting unions that are often taken for granted in the Democratic Party.
The Barack Obama era also saw big union elections, but the former president characteristically remained above the fray. Obama did not publicly endorse the United Auto Workers’ failed effort to unionize an entire Volkswagen plant in Tennessee in 2014. That was the most closely watched election in years, due to the fact that Volkswagen was a foreign automaker in the South.
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There are understandable reasons for even a sympathetic president to stay out of it. Support from a president may not help, and an administration may not want to be seen as putting a thumb on the scale. The National Labor Relations Board, an independent agency to which the president makes appointments, oversees private sector union elections. The board may end up having to decide whether someone broke the law in Amazon’s election, or even order a new one.
But Joseph Geevarghese, CEO of Our Revolution, a progressive group that grew out of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Presidential race in 2016, argued that Biden has a responsibility to directly condemn Amazon’s anti-union efforts. He said he would send out an important symbolic statement, in the same way that Ronald Reagan’s firing of air traffic controllers meant “open season for unions.”
“The truth is that this is bigger than Amazon”, Geevarghese saying.
Jeff Hauser, director of the watchdog group for the executive branch Revolving Door Project, said the administration is dealing with a huge economic and public health crisis but should still find time to censor Amazon’s anti-union tactics.
“A president affirmatively committed to the labor movement can and should also urge Amazon to stop undermining workers’ democracy,” Hauser said. Even if that support ultimately failed to move the needle, he said, “the ties between the workers and the president would not weaken, but rather strengthen.”
This is your chance to put a stake in the ground.
Erica Iheme, Jobs to Move America
Whatever concerns Biden may have about running into a union election, he hasn’t stopped some prominent Republican politicians before him. During the UAW campaign at Volkswagen, former Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) secured more work at the plant if the workers rejected the union. Then-Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam also urged workers to reject the union, saying it would force the company to abandon its expansion plans.
When asked what was preventing Biden from expressly endorsing Amazon’s union campaign, a White House spokesman reiterated the president’s general position, saying that he encourages union organizing and collective bargaining, and urges employers not to campaign. anti-union. Biden has called for increased penalties for companies that illegally destroy unions, among other important labor law reforms.
Biden may have raised the expectations of progressives with his own pro-union actions so far as president. In an unprecedented move on Opening Day, Biden fired Peter Robb, the Trump-appointed attorney general of the NRLB, who was viewed as vehemently anti-union by labor groups. Instead of Robb, he nominated Jennifer Abruzzo, an attorney for the Communications Workers of America, who received praise from the unions.
The anti-union tactics that Amazon has implemented are quite common among American employers. Many union supporters would like to see more politicians discourage and shame such practices through the pulpit of the bullies.
Earlier this month, a group of 13 Democratic senators, led by Senators Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Cory Booker (NJ), urged Amazon to “follow the law” and called for the company’s persuasion efforts “shameful. “Fifty House Democrats, led by Representative Andy Levin (Michigan), sent a similar letter to the company.
RWDSU’s Appelbaum said he was satisfied with the number of signatories to those letters, but acknowledged that it would be nice to have more names attached.
“I would tell anyone who is a Democrat who has not signed up to think about signing up now or reconsider why they call themselves a Democrat,” he said.
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