Biden did not say the word “Amazon,” but with workers in a Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon warehouse in the middle of a seven-week mail vote on whether to become the first U.S. Amazon workers to unionize, Biden’s message would have been clear even if he hadn’t specifically gone on to say that “workers in Alabama and all across America are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace.”
He concluded, “You know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice. And it’s your right, not that of an employer, it’s your right. No employer can take that right away. So make your voice heard.”
Biden’s video came days after a group of progressive organizations called on him to support the Amazon workers’ effort. Labor historians and worker advocates hailed the video as a major step beyond those Biden’s predecessors took.
“It’s almost unprecedented in American history,” Erik Loomis, a labor historian at the University of Rhode Island, told The Washington Post. “We have the sense that previous presidents in the mid-20th century were overtly pro-union, but that really wasn’t the case. Even FDR never really came out and told workers directly to support a union.”
”We haven’t had this aggressive and positive of a statement from a president of the United States on behalf of workers in decades,” said Faiz Shakir, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign manager and the founder of More Perfect Union. “It is monumental that you have a president sending a message to workers across the country that if you take the courageous step to start to unionize you will have allies in the administration, the NLRB, and the Labor Department. It means a lot.”
”Holy shit! He did it!” longtime labor strategist and writer Richard Yeselson tweeted. “Just to be clear: FDR never said this about any particular labor struggle, nor did he say workers generally should join a union (as the CIO cleverly attributed to him). So...this is, um, better than expected. And yes—the Bernie/Warren/AOC faction *matters.*”
Of particular note, before Biden’s statement, there had been speculation that his ties to Amazon management—including Jay Carney, his own former communications director, who is now Amazon’s senior vice president of global corporate affairs—would hold him back from supporting the workers. Clearly he didn’t let those ties stand in the way of his commitment to workers on this occasion.
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, higher wages, protections from racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Unions lift up workers, both union and non-union, but especially Black and Brown workers.
I made it clear—I made it clear when I was running, that my administration’s policy would be to support unions organizing and the right to collectively bargain. I’m keeping that promise. You should all remember the National Labor Relations Act didn’t just say that unions are allowed to exist, it said that we should encourage unions.
So let me be really 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. Full stop.
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 about the deep disparities that still exist in our country. And there should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda. No supervisor should confront employees about their union preferences.
You know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice. And it’s your right, not that of an employer, it’s your right. No employer can take that right away. So make your voice heard. God bless you all, and may God protect the workers and their families who are trying to figure out how to make it fairly. Thank you.
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