Speed Reads

labor unions

Historian: Biden's support for Amazon workers voting to unionize is 'almost unprecedented'

In Alabama, thousands of Amazon workers are voting on whether to unionize — and President Biden wants to make sure they know this "vitally important choice" must be made without any employer "intimidation," "coercion," or "threats."

On Sunday night, Biden released a video about the unionization efforts taking place at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. More than 5,800 workers are voting on whether they should join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. They have until March 29 to vote, and if they decide to unionize, Bessemer will be the first Amazon facility in the United States to do so.

Biden didn't explicitly name Amazon during his remarks, but said that workers in Alabama and across the U.S. "should have a free and fair choice to join a union." America "wasn't built by Wall Street," he continued, it was "built by the middle class, and unions built the middle class. I made it clear when I was running that my administration's policy would be to support union organizing and the right to collectively bargain. I'm keeping that promise."

This is a bold statement, labor historian Erik Loomis told The Washington Post, and one that is "almost unprecedented in American history. We have the sense that previous presidents in the mid-20th Century were overtly pro-union, but that wasn't really the case. Even FDR never really came and told workers directly to support a union."

The Post reports that Amazon is working overtime to try to discourage Bessemer employees from supporting the union — the company is holding mandatory meetings to criticize the union, sending out text messages asking workers to vote no, and putting up anti-union fliers in bathroom stalls.

Biden speaking out during such a tense campaign is a big deal, The New Republic columnist Timothy Noah writes, and should be seen as "a signal that the federal government is shifting away from its decades-old tradition of treating unions with neutrality shading into hostility." Noah believes conservatives will "surely condemn this change," while liberals will likely "praise it and demand more," like the passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.Catherine Garcia