"Unions put power in the hands of workers, they level the playing field, they give you a stronger voice, for your health, your safety, higher wages protections from racial discrimination and sexual harassment," Biden said in the two-and-a-half-minute video. "Unions lift up workers, both union and non-union, but especially Black and Brown workers. … So let me be really clear, it's not up to me to decide whether anyone should join a union. But let me be even more clear, it's not up to an employer to decide that either. The choice to join a union is up to the workers — full stop."
The message came ahead of an ongoing vote at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, AL, over whether workers will unionize. Supporters of the campaign have said that this push is the best chance that labor organizers have to shake up the company’s anti-union defenses so far, but workers remain reasonably scared of taking on the company and its CEO Jeff Bezos.
The campaign has drawn national attention, though the outcome of the vote will be its real test of success. To move forward, the union needs to win a majority of the votes at Amazon’s Bessemer fulfillment center from approximately 5,800 workers. Workers have already started voting by mail, and have until March 29 to make their decision. After that, ballots will be tallied.
Biden’s historic decision to publicly support a unionization push marks a major turning point in how presidential administrations are addressing labor rights and organizing. The last time a sitting president staunchly supported labor rights was when Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the seizure of Montgomery Ward’s properties after the corporation refused to follow labor laws.
While Biden's message is meant to encourage workers to stand up and unionize knowing they have the full support of the President of the United States, it’s not yet clear what effect it will actually have on workers who have not decided whether they will be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). After all, Biden’s speech comes midway through the workers' decision period.
Although Biden did not explicitly name Amazon — a powerful company that has pledged to help his administration fight the pandemic — labor organizers and activists largely welcomed his message. “This is the most pro-union statement from a president in United States history,” Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the RWDSU, told Politico.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants Union, told Politico that even if Biden’s message doesn’t change the results of the vote, it is still pivotal. “This message was not just about Bessemer, it wasn't just about this one Amazon shop. It was about workers' rights everywhere,” Nelson said.
Biden is also not alone in showing support — he is backed by an entire Congressional delegation, which includes leaders like Reps. Andy Levin, Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Terri Sewell, and Nikema Williams, among others. “The movement fighting for Black lives is about dismantling systems of exploitation and violence. More than 80% of workers at the Amazon plant are Black. Their incredible organizing is Black liberation in action. We're bringing that St. Louis solidarity to Alabama,” freshman Rep. Cori Bush tweeted on Monday.
Once all workers' votes are tallied, the outcome could affect the future of Amazon workers’ rights across the country in a major way. If the vote passes, workers in other Amazon facilities will be more easily able to unionize, which is a huge victory for the company's entire labor force — and U.S. workers as a whole.