Biden expresses assist for Amazon union vote in Alabama

United States President Joe Biden holds a statement before signing an ordinance to remedy a global shortage of semiconductor chips in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington on February 24, 2021.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Without specifically naming Amazon, President Joe Biden on Sunday expressed support for a closely watched union vote in one of the Alabama retail giant’s warehouses, calling it “vital.”

“Today and for the next few days and weeks, workers in Alabama and across America are voting on whether to unionize in their workplace,” Biden said in a video posted on his Twitter page. “This is critically important – an extremely important decision as America grapples with the deadly pandemic, the economic crisis and the reckoning of the race. What it shows is the profound differences that still exist in our country.”

Representatives from Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this month, nearly 6,000 employees at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, emailed a vote to join the retail, wholesale, and department store union, initiating the company’s first major union effort since 2014. Staff at the Alabama facility informed the NLRB of their plans to vote on RWDSU representation.

Ballot papers were mailed to staff on February 8th and must be received by the National Labor Relations Board regional office by March 29th. The counting begins the following day.

The union effort in Alabama has proven to be a protracted labor dispute on Amazon. The company hired the same law firm it helped negotiate a failed union action in Delaware in 2014. Amazon has also clarified its position on the union campaign to workers at the Bessemer facility by holding mandatory meetings, setting up a website encouraging workers to “work free of charge,” and distributing brochures in which, according to a recent vice report directing workers to “vote NO” in the historic elections.

In addition, Amazon had tried to postpone the union elections and pushed for a personal election, which the NLRB denied.

In the video, Biden said it was “up to the workers, period” to decide whether to join a union. He also discouraged employers from meddling in union elections.

“There should be no intimidation, coercion, threats, anti-union propaganda,” said Biden. “No manager should confront employees with their union preferences.

“You know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union … no employer can immediately accept that. So let your voice be heard,” he added.

During the campaign, Biden promised to be “the most union-friendly president”. He also made worker empowerment a key principle on his work agenda.

In a statement, union president Stuart Applebaum thanked Biden for his support for the union action.

“As President Biden points out, the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is to organize into unions,” Applebaum said in a statement. “And that’s why so many working women and men at the Amazon plant in Bessemer, Alabama, are fighting for a union.”

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