‘He said I got him in trouble’: Biden meets Amazon union leader at White House meeting on ‘extraordinary’ organising efforts

Christian Smalls wears ‘eat the rich’ jacket to White House meeting on union efforts

Alex Woodward
New York
Thursday 05 May 2022 21:20
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President Joe Biden met with Amazon Labor Union president Christian Smalls, Starbucks union organisers and other union workers during a task force meeting with labor officials to discuss their “extraordinary efforts to organize unions in their workplaces,” according to a White House description of the meeting.

Mr Smalls, who addressed a Senate Budget Committee on union-busting efforts earlier on 5 May, said on Twitter after the meeting on Thursday: “Just met the President lol he said I got him in trouble.”

Last month, while promoting congressional efforts to protect the right to organise a union, the president told a union conference, “Amazon, here we come.”

Mr Smalls – wearing a red, black and yellow jacket with the words “Eat the rich” printed on the front – was invited to the meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh along with members of Starbucks Workers United, United Paizo Workers and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, among others.

The president “stopped by the discussion and thanked the worker organizers for their leadership in organizing unions, the inspiration they offer to workers across the country who may want to organize, and their contributions to the worker organizing momentum that is growing across the country,” according to a White House description of the meeting.

Workers discussed their demands for fair wages, paid leave and healthcare benefits, and “the desire for basic dignity and respect as important motivators for their organizing efforts,” according to the White House.

Amazon workers at the JFK8 warehouse facility in Staten Island, New York won a union election on 1 April, the first successful US union election within the world’s largest online retailer. A majority of workers at the LDJ5 facility next door voted against unionising, according to preliminary results on 2 May.

The labor union represents 8,300 workers at the JFK8 facility, following a months-long union campaign against the company’s alleged anti-union efforts, including so-called “captive audience” meetings encouraging workers to reject the union and attempts to undermine Mr Smalls and other union leaders, who have filed several complaints with the National Labor Relations Board over federal labor law violations.

Mr Biden, who has pledged to be the most “pro-union president” in history, has urged Congress to pass the Protecting the Rights to Organize Act, which would expand labour protections related to employees’ rights to organise and collectively bargain in the workplace. The measure passed the House of Representatives last year but has stalled in the Senate.

The president previously voiced his support for an Amazon union campaign in Alabama without naming the company, saying last year that “workers in Alabama and all across America are voting on whether to organise a union in their workplace,” what he called a “vitally important choice” and “one that should be made without intimidation or threats by employers.”

That election failed, and a federal labour board authorised a new election after a regional director determined that Amazon showed a “flagrant disregard” for the mail-in ballot election, arguing that the company “essentially highjacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process.” The union and the company challenged the results of a second election at that warehouse held earlier this year.

Starbucks workers meanwhile have filed more than 200 petitions for union elections at corporate-run stores, according to Starbucks Workers United, which is organising the campaign.

Those workers have won initial union elections in more than 50 stores, including flagship coffee roasteries in New York City and Seattle, the company’s hometown.

Laura Garza, a union leader at the New York City roastery, joined the White House meeting on Thursday.

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