U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks prior to signing an executive order, aimed at addressing a global semiconductor chip shortage, in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, February 24, 2021.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
Without naming Amazon specifically, President Joe Biden on Sunday expressed support for a closely watched union vote at one of the retail giant’s Alabama warehouses, calling it “vitally important.”
“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,” Biden said in a video shared to his Twitter page. “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.”
Earlier this month, close to 6,000 workers at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, began voting by mail on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, kicking off the first major unionization effort within the company since 2014. Last November, workers at the Alabama facility notified the NLRB of their plans to hold a vote on whether to be represented by the RWDSU.
Ballots were sent out to employees on Feb. 8 and they must be received by the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office by March 29. Counting will begin the following day.
The unionization effort in Alabama has emerged as a protracted labor battle at Amazon, with the company hiring the same law firm it used to assist with negotiations during a failed union drive in Delaware in 2014. Amazon has also made its position on the union campaign clear to workers at the Bessemer facility, by holding mandatory meetings, setting up a website urging workers to “do it without dues” and, according to recent Vice report, distributing pamphlets instructing workers to “Vote NO” on the historic election.
Additionally, Amazon had sought to postpone the union election and pushed for an in-person election, which the NLRB denied.
In the video, Biden said it’s “up to the workers, full stop” to decide whether they want to join a union. He also discouraged employers from interfering in union elections.
“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” Biden said. “No supervisor should confront employees about their union preferences.
“You know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union…no employer can take that right away. So make your voice heard,” he added.
While on the campaign trail, Biden made promises to be “the most pro-union president.” He also made empowering workers a key tenet of his labor agenda.
In a statement, Union President Stuart Applebaum thanked Biden for showing his support for the union drive.
“As President Biden points out, the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is by organizing into unions,” Applebaum said in a statement. “And that is why so many working women and men are fighting for a union at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama.”