President Joe Biden considers himself a trade unionist “from the belt buckle to the sole of the shoeAs he likes to say. In his campaign talks and policy proposals, Biden made it clear that he believes all American workers would be better off if more of them had union cards. And some of the very first actions he took in power supported unions and collective bargaining.
But with Amazon workers in an Alabama warehouse now voting for the most high-profile union election in years, the White House has avoided approving unionization there. The administration’s relative silence has not gone unnoticed at the Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores Union (RWDSU), which hopes to represent workers at the retail giant’s distribution center in Bessemer, in Alabama.
“I think it’s important that the administration demonstrates its support for unionization during this campaign,” said Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU chairman, in an interview with HuffPost. “This is the biggest campaign in many years, and it’s a great opportunity for the administration to show workers what is important to them.”
Amazon does not have unionized warehouses in the United States and would like to keep it that way. The company launched an aggressive counter-campaign to dissuade some 6,000 workers from joining the RWDSU in a seven-week postal election. Amazon’s anti-union message even follows workers in the bathrooms, where the posters encourage them to vote “no”.
The retailer’s captive audience meetings and anti-union literature drew scolding from Democrats in both the House and Senate, as well as oblique 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 didn’t call Amazon by name.
“This is his opportunity to put a stake in the field,” said Erica Iheme, originally from Birmingham 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 tried to gain support from White House officials for the effort.
It’s the biggest campaign in many years, and it’s a great opportunity for the administration to show workers what is important to them.
Stuart Appelbaum, President, RWDSU
A supporting tweet from the president might not influence any vote among workers. But it could put a company like Amazon on guard against possible retaliation and make a strong statement about the administration’s values. It would also set a new marker for a Democratic president when it comes to publicly supporting unions that often feel taken for granted within the Democratic Party.
The Barack Obama era also saw big union elections, but the former president typically stayed above the fray. Obama did not publicly approve of the United Auto Workers’ failed effort to unionize an entire Volkswagen plant in Tennessee in 2014. It 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 this. Support from a president may not help, and an administration may not want to be seen as putting a thumb in the balance. The National Labor Relations Council, an independent body to which the president appoints, oversees private sector union elections. The board may end up having to decide if anyone broke the law in the Amazon election, or even order a recast.
But Joseph Geevarghese, the executive director of Our Revolution, a progressive group that emerged from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ‘S presidential race in 2016, argued that Biden had a responsibility to directly condemn Amazon’s anti-union efforts. He said it would send an important symbolic statement, how Ronald Reagan’s dismissal of air traffic controllers signified “a season open to unions.”
“The truth is, it’s bigger than Amazon,” Geevarghese mentionned.
Jeff Hauser, director of the executive branch of the Revolving Door Project watchdog, said the administration was facing a massive economic and public health crisis, but it should still find time to censor the anti-union tactics of Amazon.
“A president resolutely 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 be weakened but strengthened.
This is his opportunity to put a stake in the ground.
Erica Iheme, Jobs To Move America
Whatever concerns Biden might have about getting into a union election, some prominent Republican politicians haven’t stopped before him. During the UAW campaign at Volkswagen, former Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) assured more work at the factory if the workers rejected the union. Bill Haslam, then governor of Tennessee, also urged workers to refuse the union, saying it would force the company to abandon plans for expansion.
Asked what was preventing Biden from expressly endorsing Amazon’s union campaign, a White House spokesman reiterated the president’s general position, saying he encouraged union organizing and collective bargaining, and urged employers not to conduct anti-union campaigns. Biden called for increased sanctions on companies that illegally bankrupt unions, among other important labor law reforms.
Biden may have raised the expectations of progressives through his own pro-union actions up to the presidency. In an unprecedented move on inauguration day, Biden sacked Peter Robb, Trump’s appointed attorney general of the NRLB, whom labor groups viewed as fiercely anti-union. In Robb’s place, he appointed Jennifer Abruzzo, a lawyer for the Communications Workers of America, garnering praise from the unions.
The anti-union tactics deployed by Amazon are quite common among American employers. Many union supporters would like to see more politicians discourage and shame these practices through the pulpit of bullies.
Earlier this month, a group of 13 Democratic senators, led by the senses. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Cory Booker (NJ) urged Amazon to “obey the law” and called the company’s persuasion efforts “shameful. Fifty House Democrats, led by Representative Andy Levin (Mich.), Sent a similar letter to the company.
Appelbaum of the RWDSU said he was happy with the number of signatories to these letters, but acknowledged that it would be nice to have more names attached.
“I would say to anyone who’s a Democrat who hasn’t signed, they have to think about signing now or reconsider why they call themselves Democrats,” he said.
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