Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders challenged Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to explain reports of the retailing giant’s alleged aggressive anti-union tactics being used to prevent workers from organizing at U.S. facilities.
Bezos, who until his recent divorce was the richest man on Earth worth $184 billion, declined to attend this week’s Senate Budget Committee hearing on income inequality. Sanders, who chairs the committee, personally invited the billionaire founder. The national spotlight has focused on thousands of workers trying to form a union at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham. Bipartisan lawmakers including President Joe Biden and Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio have publicly stated their support for the Alabama workers’ unionization plan.
During his appearance on MSNBC Sunday, Sanders poked at Bezos and said he, of all people, “can afford to pay them more.” The senator then asked why the billionaire would even choose to oppose workers who are organizing to guarantee permanent, and not temporary, improvements in safety and job security.
“I say to Jeff Bezos, the richest person on the planet: What is your problem with Amazon workers organizing for better working conditions and better pay? You are worth $182 BILLION. You cannot continue to have it all when so many are struggling,” Sanders told MSNBC host Ali Velshi in response to Bezos declining his Senate invitation.
According to the pro-union labor group that represents the Amazon employees in Alabama, the workers are seeking “just-cause” instead of “at-will” employment, the ability to challenge write-ups and terminations perceived as wrongful, and safer conditions amid the pandemic. In October, the company revealed 20,000 of its U.S. employees had tested positive or were presumed positive for COVID-19. Following backlash, those were the last such numbers produced by the company.
A Bessemer, Alabama, worker recently filed an unfair labor practices claim with the National Labor Relations Board that cited Amazon’s corporate wing setting up DoItWithoutDues.com. The site makes false claims about employees in Alabama, a “right-to-work” state, being forced to pay union dues.
The Washington Post reported last week that anti-union flyers started popping up in Amazon warehouse bathrooms encouraging workers to oppose pro-union votes. The “aggressive fight” to halt unionization efforts was the key focal point of Sanders’ criticism this week.
Newsweek reached out to Amazon and Sanders’ office for additional remarks Sunday.
In an earlier statement sent to Newsweek from this past November, Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski said: “We respect our employees’ right to join or not join a labor union, but the fact is that Amazon already offers what these groups claim they want.
“We don’t believe this group represents the majority of our employees’ views. 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 overall pay, benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.”
A Sanders’ official Senate website has for years featured petitions that support unionization efforts at multi-billion dollar corporations like Amazon and Walmart. A recent Sanders petition and fundraising campaign featured a message from Sanders to Bezos.
“It is beyond absurd that you would make more money in ten seconds than the median employee of Amazon makes in an entire year…Meanwhile, thousands of Amazon employees are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid and public housing because their wages are too low. I don’t believe that ordinary Americans should be subsidizing the wealthiest person in the world because you pay your employees inadequate wages,” Sanders wrote.