Bernie Sanders tells Biden to end federal contracts with ‘anti-union’ companies like Amazon

‘The time has come to tell Amazon that if it wants another federal contract, it must obey the law’

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 27 April 2022 00:32 BST
Bernie Sanders urges Biden to cut federal contracts with Amazon

US Senator Bernie Sanders has written a letter to President Joe Biden urging the White House to issue an executive order blocking companies like Amazon from receiving federal contracts, until the world’s largest online retailer agrees to cease what he calls “illegal anti-union activity” targeting labor organising efforts among workers in New York City and Alabama.

In remarks on the floor of the US Senate on 26 April, the senator from Vermont said Amazon has engaged in a “massive attempt to undermine the Amazon union drive in direct violation of labour laws and regulations,” pointing to allegations of union busting and harassment against employees and their complaints with the federal labor board.

“Amazon may be a large and profitable corporation, it may be owned by one of the wealthiest people in America, but it cannot be allowed to continue to violate the law and the rights of its employees,” the senator said. “The time has come to tell Amazon that if it wants another federal contract, it must obey the law.”

President Biden – who has called himself the “most pro-union president” in US history – has encouraged Amazon workers in Alabama who have sought a union within the company and said in remarks to a recent trade union conference “Amazon, here we come.”

He also has urged Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organise Act, or Pro Act, a measure that would expand labour protections related to employees’ rights to organise and collectively bargain in the workplace. That legislation has stalled in the US Senate after passing the House of Representatives last year.

A statement from a White House official to Politico, which first reported the letter, said in response that the president “has stated consistently and firmly that every worker in every state must have a free and fair choice to join a union and the right to bargain collectively with their employer.”

The official said that the president believes “there should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, and no anti-union propaganda from employers while workers are making that vitally important choice about a union.”

Since 2004, Amazon has received thousands of federal contracts worth billions of dollars, according to Senator Sanders. The company’s Amazon Web Service cloud-computing subsidiary supports thousands of developers as well as federal government agencies.

The service also received a contract with the National Security Agency worth up to $10bn, according to The Washington Post.

During his campaign, President Biden also pledged to “ensure federal contracts only go to employers who sign neutrality agreements committing not to run anti-union campaigns.”

“The essence of your plan for strengthening union organizing was to make sure that federal dollars do not flow into the hands of unscrupulous employers who engage in union-busting, participate in wage theft, or violate labor law,” the senator wrote. “In order to implement that plan, I urge you to sign an Executive Order preventing companies that violate federal labor laws from contracting with the federal government.”

Senator Sanders and US Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined Amazon Labor Union organisers and supporters in Staten Island on 24 April to rally workers ahead of a union election at a second Amazon facility following the upstart union’s victory on 1 April, which marked the first successful union election within the company.

The Staten Island union campaign has faced well-financed efforts to keep union activity out of the company, from so-called “captive audience” meetings to the distribution of anti-union literature, posters and messages to workers and attempts to undermine or delegitimise union leaders.

The company also led an anti-union campaign in Bessemer, Alabama, where a union vote failed last year. The outcome of a re-do of that election, ordered by National Labor Relations Board, hinges on more than 400 challenged ballots.

Amazon has also challenged the results of the JFK8 warehouse facility in Staten Island.

The Independent has requested comment from Amazon.

Senator Sanders has also encouraged the White House to meet with Amazon and Starbucks union organisers, and later this month he will hold a Senate Budget Committee hearing – on which he serves as chair – examining the process for awarding contracts to companies pushing back against union efforts.

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