IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Ahead of Alabama vote, Biden breaks new ground with union message

Before taking office, Biden assured workers he'd be "the most pro-union president you've ever seen." Evidently, he was serious.
Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-BUSINESS-UNION-BIDEN-AMAZON
Protesters hold placards in support of Amazon workers in New York on Feb. 20, 2021.Kena Betancur / AFP - Getty Images file

Throughout its history, Amazon.com has successfully beaten back every unionization effort in the United States. That may soon change.

At an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, thousands of workers are weighing whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, and balloting is currently underway. Not surprisingly, the giant online retailer has been unsubtle in trying to dissuade its employees, holding mandatory meetings to make the case against unionization.

It's against this backdrop that the sitting American president decided to weigh in. NBC News reported this morning:

Without naming Amazon specifically, President Joe Biden on Sunday expressed support for a closely watched union vote at one of the retail giant's Alabama warehouses, calling it "vitally important." ... In the video, Biden said it's "up to the workers, full stop" to decide whether they want to join a union. He also discouraged employers from interfering in union elections.

"Today and over the next few days and weeks, workers in Alabama and all across America are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace," Biden said in a video, shared via Twitter. "This is vitally important — a vitally important choice, as America grapples with the deadly pandemic, the economic crisis and the reckoning on race — what it reveals is the deep disparities that still exist in our country."

The Democrat added, "There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda. No supervisor should confront employees about their union preferences.... You know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union.... No employer can take that right away. So make your voice heard."

To be sure, the message may seem relatively obvious, and for those sympathetic to organized labor, none of his comments were the least bit controversial.

But what made the message extraordinary was its existence: there's no modern parallel for a sitting American president making such a bold declaration in support of union organizing and in opposition to employer intimidation.

The Washington Post quoted one historian who characterized Biden's remarks as a potentially watershed moment. "It's almost unprecedented in American history," said Erik Loomis, a labor historian at the University of Rhode Island.

Before taking office, Biden assured workers he'd be "the most pro-union president you've ever seen." Evidently, he was serious.