President Biden Will Fight You Behind The (Amazon) Warehouse
There are many reasons we're glad Joe Biden is president instead of the twice-impeached thug, but it's wonderful to have a president who genuinely supports workers' rights. Biden released a video Sunday on Twitter, a platform he can freely use, where he backed an organizing drive among Amazon employees at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.
Workers in Alabama – and all across America – are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace. It’s a… https://t.co/aNdHmYyFUb— President Biden (@President Biden)1614560506.0
I have long said America wasn't built by Wall Street. It was built by the middle class, and unions built the middle class. Unions put power in the hands of workers. They level the playing field. They give you a stronger voice, for your health, your safety, (for) higher wages, protections from racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Unions lift up workers, both union and non-union, but especially Black and brown workers.
This is one of the most unambiguously pro-union statements from a sitting US president in recent memory. I appreciate how Biden paints an inclusive picture of union membership: It's not just working-class white guys with a metal lunchpail. Unions also protect the rights of women and workers of color (although they didn't always).
Biden's message is timely: Republicans have made teachers unions the scapegoat for why schools aren't open yet, instead of the maskless “freedom fighters" who couldn't avoid bars for a few weeks. Black postal workers have a higher union membership than their white colleagues, and the union has supported employee pushback against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's active sabotage.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has added billions to his money bin during the pandemic, but he's not big on sharing it with the frontline workers who are risking their health so everyone else can have diapers and toilet paper delivered to their door. Last year, Amazon warehouse workers made unreasonable demands for — gasp! — paid sick time.
Biden doesn't mention Amazon by name but he called out reported efforts to intimidate workers.
You should all remember that the National Labor Relations Act didn't just say unions are allowed to exist. It said that we should encourage unions. Let me be clear: It's not up to me to decide whether anyone should join a union. But let me be even more clear: It's not up to an employer to decide that either. The choice to join a union is up to the workers, full stop.
This is far more inspirational than the “labor relations" meeting I attended when I worked in corporate management. During his unabashed anti-union tirade, the “friendly" head of HR warned us that under no circumstances should we we ever accept a folded slip of paper from our employees. Apparently, the paper could read “WE FORM UNION NOW" and we'd be screwed. It was all very depressing. I felt like Tom Cruise in The Firm discovering that Wilfred Brimley was evil.
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. This is vitally important — a vitally important choice, as America grapples with the deadly pandemic, the economic crisis and the reckoning on race — what it reveals is the deep disparities that still exist in our country.
Biden again directly connects union membership with his commitment to overcoming income inequality and racial discrimination. This is a bold position. He lost union households in Ohio, even though the one-term loser is a vocal opponent of labor unions. President Klan Robe's racist appeal was more compelling, apparently, and Democrats who want to win back union voters might suggest keeping quiet about racial “reckonings." But Biden isn't backing down, and I appreciate that.
There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda. No supervisor should confront an employee about their union preferences.
The president of the United States has reminded workers in Alabama of their rights, and he's made clear to Amazon that he has those workers' backs. This should free them to make a choice that'll improve their lives without risking their livelihoods. Bezos can spare the coin.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."