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  • Thomas Neuburger

How Strongly Does Joe Biden Want to See Amazon Unionized? Will He Act, or Just Speak Pretty Words?


Until Sunday, this was a fair characterization of Biden's position on the Amazon unionization effort. Recent words to the contrary, it may still be valid.


By Thomas Neuburger


Until just recently, February 27, Joe Biden has been silent, absent, from the Amazon unionization effort. Could he have been making a choice, like the "choice" he made to abandon the $15 minimum wage in the Senate?


Consider:


• Biden claims to be a union man from his belt buckle to his shoes.


• But when it comes to the Amazon warehouse unionization effort, until very recently he's been nowhere to be found:

[W]ith Amazon workers at an Alabama warehouse now casting ballots in the most high-profile union election in years, the White House has steered clear of endorsing unionization there. The administration’s relative silence hasn’t gone unnoticed at the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which hopes to represent workers at the retail giant’s fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama.

He has lots of clever excuses for his absence from this fight (read the article if you're interested in his excuses), but the bottom line is the bottom line. It has looked like doesn't want to help.


• Wonder why? Maybe Jay Carney is one of the reasons:

With a framed Joe Biden poster in the background, Amazon.com Inc’s Jay Carney made no secret of his long history with the presidential candidate while speaking at a virtual policy roundtable during August’s Democratic party convention.
Carney, who is Amazon’s public policy and communications chief, touted the hundreds of thousands of jobs his company has created and joined Microsoft Corp’s President Brad Smith as one of two senior tech executives to have a public role at the convention - hinting at Amazon’s potential influence on a Biden administration if the democrat wins the White House.
Amazon appears to have taken an early lead making in-roads with the Biden camp, according to data gathered by Reuters from OpenSecrets and campaign finance records, along with interviews with over a dozen stakeholders including anti-monopoly groups, lobbyists, congressional aides, competitors and lawmakers.
Joining Amazon, Alphabet's Google and Microsoft are among the top five contributors to Joe Biden's candidate campaign committee in the 2020 cycle, according to data from OpenSecrets, a website which tracks money in politics and campaign finance records.

• Want more? Consider Jamie Gorelick and the (Democratic Party-aligned?) law firm WilmerHale:

Almost 6,000 Amazon warehouse workers are voting to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union this week. Amazon has ruthlessly fought back attempts by workers to come together for better pay and working conditions, dragging workers into propagandistic anti-union meetings, paying temps to wear anti-union messages, and sending text blasts and leaving flyers in bathrooms telling workers to vote “no.” Their playbook is guided by a gamut of expensive anti-union consultants and law firms who coach businesses on how to bust unions.
Jamie Gorelick, a close friend and confidante to potential Attorney General Merrick Garland, sits on the board of Amazon and is a partner at WilmerHale, one of these anti-union firms. WilmerHale’s work brazenly suppressing unions and her affiliation with a monopolist like Amazon render their close relationship deeply concerning — all the more so since Gorelick has drawn public attention to their friendship in recent weeks, a likely wink aimed at potential WilmerHale clients. The contrast is stark in light of President Biden’s promise to the AFL-CIO saying “If I’m in the Oval Office, guess who’s gonna be there with me? Unions.”
WilmerHale’s Anti-Union Activism
WilmerHale is a BigLaw firm that publicly states that it trains workers on “union awareness and avoidance.” This is a euphemism common among anti-union firms. For workers, it translates to misinformation and intimidation. Union-busting groups at Amazon have held workers captive and made them listen to pro-employer propaganda to “sow doubts about the unionization drive.” I have worked on campaigns where anti-union consultants sat behind bus drivers, whispering lies about inflated dues and potential discipline while on the road. Gorelick’s WilmerHale seems to offer similar services, bragging about “non-lawyer HR Professionals” that it dispatches to paying clients to work on “discrete HR projects.” It is tough to imagine a clandestine HR project, but WilmerHale’s boasts about representing employers before the National Labor Relations Board and the “complete and total victory” it won defending Teradyne from discrimination suits does not build confidence.

I understand privately that there are hundreds of little Gorelicks and baby Jay Carneys — Democratic Party–connecteds — at Amazon. Offsetting Biden's until-recent silence, the Democratic ecosystem has been "vocal with their deeds" in support of Amazon's anti-union efforts.


Biden Makes a Pro-Union Statement


Seeming to feel this criticism of his silence, Biden made a strong statement on Sunday, February 28, in support of unions.



Note that ballots were mailed out on February 8, almost a month before these comments were made. (The voting will continue until March 29.) In his speech, Biden said, "There should be no threats, no intimidation, no coersion, no anti-union propaganda."


Yet those things have already occurred. Where was President Biden then? He's been in office since January. Why did he not speak out earlier or act more strongly? Will he take future action against Amazon — for example, for firing Chris Smalls a year ago for union organizing in New York — once he gets the NLRB in order? Seems unlikely.


Things he wants, he shows that he wants — he want Neera Tanden as head of OMB, for example. Things he doesn't want, he claims helplessness on — like a $15 dollar minimum wage, pushed out to 2025. And true to form, the $15 minimum wage is dead in the Senate:



There's a last-minute effort by actual progressives to get Kamala Harris to resurrect it, but you know where that will go, don't you. As Julia Rock and Andrew Perez point out at the link above, "The White House is so far trying to pre-emptively surrender."


So I think I'll stand by my cynicism about administration words until proven wrong by administration deeds. Biden has build his entire career on appearances, by appearing to be what he's not. He's the Senator from MBNA who's sold as "Scranton Joe" at heart, yet none of his deeds have "Scranton Joe" written on them.


Judge Biden by his actions, not his pretty words. In his bumbling doofusy way, he's even more a master of distracting talk than Obama was.

(I've launched a Substack site to greet the post-Trump era. You can get more information here and here. If you decide to sign up — it's free — my thanks to you!)

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