Amazon Union Battle Arrives in Washington

Amazon Union Battle Arrives in Washington
Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, speaks during an address to attendees at Access Intelligence's SATELLITE 2017 conference in Washington on March 7, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Zachary Stieber

The push to unionize in an Amazon warehouse in Alabama will be a major focus of a congressional hearing in Washington on Wednesday.

Amazon worker Jennifer Bates is slated to testify to the Senate Budget Committee in an 11 a.m. hearing titled "The Income and Wealth Inequality Crisis in America." Bates is an organizer attempting to convince colleagues to vote for unionization.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of the stridently anti-union Amazon, was invited to attend but declined, Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said last week.

"I'm sorry Mr. Bezos won't join our hearing on income and wealth inequality. As the wealthiest person on earth I'd love to hear his reasoning as to why he is vigorously opposing a union organizing effort at Amazon which would improve wages and benefits for struggling workers," Sanders wrote in a tweet.

An Amazon spokesperson told news outlets that Bezos was not able to attend but did not say why.

Workers at the company's warehouse in Bessemer launched a unionization effort that triggered a mail-in vote starting Feb. 8.

Workers have until March 29 to return their ballots.

Amazon opposed holding a mail-in election but was overruled by labor officials.

Organizers say a union would give workers "the right to collectively bargain over our working conditions including items such as safety standards, training, breaks, pay, benefits, and other important issues that would make our workplace better."

"Amazon sometimes addresses issues at work but it’s all temporary. A union contract is in writing, negotiated upon, and Amazon would need to legally follow the guidelines and there are mechanisms to hold them legally accountable to us as workers. There’s no other way to have this type of relationship with Amazon outside of having a union," organizers wrote on a website advocating for a union.

Workers are voting on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union.

Amazon says on a website opposing unionization that workers would have to waste money on dues and already receive high wages, health care, vision, and dental benefits.

"We work hard to support our teams and more than 90 percent of associates at our Bessemer site say they would recommend Amazon as a good place to work to their friends. Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs," Amazon spokeswoman Heather Knox told The Epoch Times via email last month.

An Amazon distribution center is seen in Bessemer, Ala., on March 5, 2021. (Bill Barrow/AP Photo)
An Amazon distribution center is seen in Bessemer, Ala., on March 5, 2021. (Bill Barrow/AP Photo)
The unionization bid has already received backing from President Joe Biden and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), among other elected officials.

Amazon, based in Washington state, has grown significantly in recent years, particularly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company hit one million workers late last year, putting it second behind Walmart on the list of largest U.S. employers.

Amazon in 2018 raised its minimum wage to $15 for all employees in the United States.

“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” Bezos said at the time. "We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.”

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, though some states require higher wage floors.

Sanders said in a statement that Bezos "is currently engaged in an aggressive union-busting campaign against Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama to stop them from collectively bargaining for better wages, benefits, and working conditions."

A press release from his office highlighted how millions of Americans are unemployed, underemployed, or have given up looking for work, while alleging hunger in the country is at the highest level in decades.

"Meanwhile, the wealthiest people in the country are becoming much richer, and income and wealth inequality are soaring. Incredibly, during the pandemic, 664 billionaires in America have increased their wealth by $1.3 trillion," it said. "Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, owns more wealth than the bottom 39 percent of Americans combined."