Bernie Sanders has torn into Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos after he turned down an invitation to appear before a Senate hearing on income inequality next week.
Sanders said he asked the tech baron to appear at a Wednesday committee hearing to discuss the union election being held at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.
‘It’s unfortunate Mr. Bezos won’t join our hearing. While he’s become $78 billion richer during the pandemic, families are struggling to survive, so why is he spending a whole lot of money to stop workers from organizing a union at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama?’ Sanders tweeted on Friday evening.
Sanders, as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, also invited Jennifer Bates, who trains employees at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, where nearly 6,000 employees are in the midst of an election on whether or not unionize.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, invited Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos to appear in front of the committee at a hearing on income inequality
Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, invited Bezos to appear in front of the committee as part of a hearing on income inequality
The Vermont senator accused Bezos, who, with an estimated net worth of $197 billion, is the richest man in the world, of an ‘aggressive union-busting campaign’ at his Alabama facility.
Sanders, who is a frequent Amazon critic, previously announced his support for the workers’ right to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
Bezos ‘is currently engaged in an aggressive union-busting campaign against Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama to stop them from collectively bargaining for better wages, benefits, and working conditions,’ Sanders said in a statement announcing the March 17 hearing.
Amazon did not immediately respond to an inquiry on whether Bezos, who is the world’s richest person, would appear at the hearing.
Bezos has faced criticism for Amazon’s labor practices during the coronavirus pandemic, including the ending of hazard pay for its frontline workers
Sanders said he was calling the hearing on the growing crisis of wealth inequality and stated that ‘during the pandemic, 664 billionaires in America have increased their wealth by $1.3 trillion.’
Workers at Amazon’s Alabama warehouse began voting in February on whether or not to form the first American union at the e-commerce giant that could pave the way for further unionization in the US at one of the world’s most powerful companies.
The voting on whether to unionize runs through March 29.
The union drive would, if successful, result in the first US collective bargaining unit at Amazon, which employs some 800,000 people in the United States.
‘What you are seeing right now in Bessemer is an example of the richest person in this country spending a whole lot of money to make it harder for ordinary working people to live with dignity and safety,’ Sanders told The Washington Post.
Union organizers support Amazon workers, pictured outside of the Amazon BHM1 facility during a congressional visit to the site in Birmingham, Alabama
Next week’s hearing will focus on ‘The Income and Wealth Inequality Crisis in America.’ Other witnesses include former labor secretary Robert Reich.
Bezos’ wealth skyrocketed from $58 billion during the pandemic, which saw online sales explode as people stayed home under lockdown conditions.
The massive e-commerce country has discouraged union efforts in the United States although many of its European locations do work under unions.
Amazon has said the majority of its workers did not want to join a union and has run a counter-campaign to union efforts in Bessemer, setting up a website urging workers to ‘Do It Without Dues’ and distributing pamphlets instructing workers to ‘Vote NO’ on against the labor initiative.
The company also has pointed out it it offers Bessemer workers generous benefits, including starting pay of $15.30 an hour, well above the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
Amazon’s facility in Bessemer, Alabama, pictured, where nearly 6,000 employees are voting on whether or not to unionize
Celebrities and political leaders have expressed support for the union effort.
President Joe Biden jumped into battle earlier this month, defending the workers right to unionize but stopping short of endorsing the formation of a union.
‘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,’ he said in a video posted to the White House’s social media accounts.
President Biden did not call out Amazon by name in his remarks but he did talk about workers in Alabama and warned there should be no intimidation of workers during the process.
Workers at the Bessemer facility claim Amazon has launched a ‘disinformation’ campaign aimed at getting them to vote down a proposal to form a union
‘There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti union propaganda,’ Biden said, pointing his finger to the camera to emphasize his point.
‘No supervisor, no supervisors confront employees about their union preferences. You know, 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,’ he added.
Rep. Ilhan Omar and Stacey Abrams also released videos of their support of the workers.
There have been a series of protests around the United States on safety and working conditions at Amazon, with the pandemic increasing pressure on its distribution network even as profits soar.
The pro-union workers face an uphill battle against the second-largest employer in the country with a history of crushing unionizing efforts at its warehouses and its Whole Foods grocery stores.
Amazon employs nearly 1.3 million people worldwide.
US lawmakers, left to right, Jamaal Bowman, Nikema Williams, Terri Sewell, Cori Bush, and Andy Levin visit the Amazon Fulfillment Center after meeting on March 5 with workers and organizers involved in a contested unionization effort