Biden appears to be showing support for Amazon workers who voted to form unions

WASHINGTON — Days after warehouse workers on Staten Island successfully challenged Amazon and form a labor union, President Biden on Wednesday threw his support for workers and championed their cause.

In his remarks to the National Conference of Unionized Workers, Mr. Biden spoke directly to one of the world’s most powerful companies and advocated for employees’ right to unionize. “The choice to join a union is up to the workers,” he said during remarks he made at the National Conference of Construction Trade Unions in North America. “By the way, Amazon, here we go. Watch.”

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the president was only expressing his longstanding support for collective bargaining and unions.

“What he hasn’t done is send a message that he or the US government will be directly involved in any of these efforts or take any direct action,” Ms. Psaki said.

However, the most visible statements about Amazon have been from Mr. Biden, who has called himself “the most pro-union president” ever and has long hinted that he disapproves of the company’s efforts to try to persuade its workers to break with unions. Last year, Mr. Biden expressed support for warehouse workers trying to create a union for an Amazon warehouse in Alabama. But at the time, the president did not call the company by name.

“Let me be really clear: It’s not in my business to decide whether anyone should join a union,” he said at the time in a direct-to-camera address posted to the White House Twitter page, after a lobbying campaign by supporters. Union groups prompted him to think about leadership. “But let me be more clear: It’s not up to the employer to decide that either.” Workers there narrowly voted against forming a union. Amazon has also said that workers have the right to decide whether to join unions, but the National Labor Relations Board has filed a number of cases saying the company improperly interfered with their right to do so. Amazon denies this.

The success of the union’s campaign at the Staten Island warehouse – Amazon’s only fulfillment center in New York City – surprised many. Employees cast 2,654 votes for it to be represented by the Amazon workers union and 2,131 votes against it, according to the National Labor Relations Board, giving the union a win by more than 10 percentage points.

The victory comes at a perilous moment for the labor movement. Despite increased public support for labor unions, rising demand for workers and pockets of successful labor activity, the number of American workers in unions fell last year to 10.3%, the lowest rate in decades.

Critics – including some labor officials – say traditional unions have failed to allocate sufficient resources to campaigning and have often bet on the wrong fights.

Amazon is expected to compete strongly in the union victory. “We are disappointed with the outcome of the Staten Island election because we believe a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees,” said an unsigned statement on the company’s blog.

Amazon has had a hiring spree during the pandemic, giving employees an increased sense of power while raising concerns about safety in the workplace. It now has 1.6 million employees globally but suffers from high turnover. T, was the subject of a New York Times investigation last year into its Staten Island warehouse, known as JFK8, that revealed a number of its problems — including unintended shootings and high attrition — that were emblematic of Amazon’s broader recruitment model.

The National Labor Relations Board is pursuing cases in administrative and federal courts where it says Amazon violated workers’ organizing rights. Amazon’s main response to the union’s victory was its belief that the agency had lost its objectivity and that it was actively supporting the union, rather than being a neutral arbiter.

But the agency said its actions against Amazon were consistent with Congress’s mandate to enforce workers’ rights.

Katie Rogers Reported from Washington, Karen’s method from Seattle. Noam Chipper Contributed from Chicago.

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