Declaring that all U.S. workers have the right to bargain collectively without intimidation or coercion, President Joe Biden on Sunday delivered a public message of support to Amazon employees attempting to unionize at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama in the face of furious employer opposition.
“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,” the president says in a two-minute video posted to Twitter Sunday night. “I’m keeping that promise.”
While Biden did not explicitly advocate voting in favor of unionization—saying, “It’s not up to me to decide whether anyone should join a union”—his comments were viewed as an unusual and remarkable intervention by a sitting president in a heated and potentially seismic organizing push by employees of a notoriously anti-union company.
“We haven’t had this aggressive and positive of a statement from a president of the United States on behalf of workers in decades,” Faiz Shakir, former presidential campaign manager for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and founder of More Perfect Union, told the Washington Post. “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.”
In the new video—released after the president faced pressure to vocally support the Bessemer effort—Biden says that “you should all remember that 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,” the president continues. “But let me be even more clear: it’s not up to an employer to decide that either.”
“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” Biden added. “No supervisor should confront employees about their union preferences… 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.”
Workers in Alabama – and all across America – are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace. It’s a vitally important choice – one that should be made without intimidation or threats by employers.
Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. pic.twitter.com/2lzbyyii1g
— President Biden (@POTUS) March 1, 2021
“This is a huge, huge deal,” Evan Weber, political director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, wrote in response to Biden’s remarks.
HuffPost labor reporter Dave Jamieson tweeted that while “union supporters will still be disappointed Biden does not overtly endorse the BAmazon Union campaign… this two-minute video might be more than Obama ever did from the bully pulpit when it comes to collective bargaining.”
“Honestly, just seeing a president mention the National Labor Relations Act—let alone explain a central tenet of the law—is kind of bewildering, and shows how much has shifted in the last few years,” Jamieson added.
Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian and professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said Biden’s pro-union statement “puts Obama to shame.”
Biden’s pro-union video has 1.4 million views. It needs 14 million more, for starters. It will be used in every union organizing campaign for the next four or eight years. The president’s use of the phrase “anti-union propaganda” is powerful, negating so much corporate rhetoric
— Nelson Lichtenstein (@NelsonLichtens1) March 1, 2021
Workers at the Bessemer facility began voting on whether to unionize last month, and the election will run through March 29. Possibly fearing that a successful organizing push at the roughly 6,000-employee Alabama warehouse could embolden union drives elsewhere, Amazon has worked hard to crush the Bessemer effort. As labor journalist Steven Greenhouse reported for The Guardian last week:
Bessemer Amazon has mounted a fierce campaign against the [Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU)]. It texts several anti-union messages each day to workers. It has forced workers to attend ‘information’ meetings where managers belittle unions. It even put anti-union posters in the bathroom stalls. “You go to the bathroom for privacy, but then you have a flyer right in your face,” [Amazon employee Darryl] Richardson said. “That feels like a type of harassment. That’s extreme to me.”
In a statement Sunday night, RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum thanked Biden for “sending a clear message of support for the BAmazon Union workers in Alabama seeking to bring the first union to an Amazon warehouse with the RWDSU.”
“As President Biden points out, the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is by organizing into unions,” Appelbaum said. “And that is why so many working women and men are fighting for a union at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama.”