WASHINGTON – Amazon is affiliated with the Biden administration on many fronts.
It supports the federal minimum wage of $ 15 an hour. It is committed to meeting all the goals of the Paris climate agreement on reducing emissions. It met with authorities to discuss how to help distribute Covid-19 vaccine.
But a union at one of their warehouses in Alabama led the retailer to take a politically balanced action: siding on the good side of Washington’s Democratic Party leaders while tearing down the nest effort. the position that President Biden has signaled to support.
Amazon workers in Bessemer, Ala., Voted for weeks on whether to form a union. Voting ends on Monday. The approval will be the first for Amazon workers in the United States and could energize the nationwide labor movement.
Labor organizers have spoken of dissatisfaction with working conditions in the warehouse, arguing that Amazon’s pursuit of efficiency and profitability makes those conditions harsh for workers. The company protested that its $ 15-per-hour starting salary exceeded what other employers in the area pay, and it urged workers to vote against the union.
Labor leaders and Liberal Democrats have started unions, saying that shows Amazon is not as labor friendly as the company says it is. Some company critics are also using their ability to resist union push to argue that Amazon should not be trusted on other issues, like climate change and the federal minimum wage. .
Amazon has always fought against its workers’ coalition. But the Alabama voting came at a dangerous time for the company. Lawmakers and regulators – not its competitors – are some of its biggest threats, and it has spent a lot of time and money trying to prevent government from doing business. mine.
Amazon’s businesses are subject to antitrust investigations at the Federal Trade Commission and at many state attorney general’s offices. Mr. Biden on Monday nominated Lina Khan, a legal scholar known for her critiques of the company, for a seat in the FTC
Sarah Miller, an Amazon critic, said of the company: “I think everyone is looking through PR at the moment and focusing on both their economic and political power. Ms. Miller, who runs the US Economic Freedom Project, an antitrust consulting organization, added, “I think the story is now cooked about their monopoly status, their status as an employer abuses and their status as one of the biggest lobbying spenders in Washington, DC ”
Drew Herdener, Amazon’s vice president for global communications, said in a statement that the company shares common ground with the Biden administration on climate change, immigration reform, minimum wage policy and and “found a really positive cooperation on those fronts” with the White House.
“As it concerns progressive Democrats in general, we were surprised by some of the negative things we have seen some of our members say in the press and on social media. , ”He said. “If there is a progressive company in this country, it is Amazon. Find me another big company that pays twice the minimum wage, offers great health benefits from Day 1, 95% return on education, a safe work environment, etc. We really think that we are an example of what a US company should do for its employees. “
Amazon spent $ 18.7 million on federal lobbying last year, compared with $ 2.1 million a decade ago, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Its lobbyists highlight their employer’s case on many issues, like how drones are administered and the laws governing pharmacies.
Consumers love Amazon. At the end of 2019, a national survey by The Verge, a technology news site, found that 91% had a favorable view of the retail giant. When professors at Georgetown and New York University asked Americans in 2018 which institution they trust most, only the military ranked higher than Amazon.
However, when Jeff Bezos, the chief executive officer, testified before Congress last year, he faced accusations that the company was forcing small businesses to use its online marketplace. A freelance charity has sponsored a network of activists to pressure Amazon on privacy, competition, and labor issues. They also attacked Mr. Bezos, the richest man in the world with a number of measures, for his personal wealth.
Amazon has made efforts to reach out to the new administration. Dave Clark, who runs the company’s consumer business, sent a letter to the White House in January offering help with the coronavirus vaccine distribution and almost met with Jeff Zient, the coordinator. on the White House virus, to discuss vaccine deployment.
In December, the company also hired lobbyist Jeff Ricchetti, whose brother Steve Ricchetti, is Biden’s longtime aide and now an adviser to the president. In the final quarter of last year, Amazon paid Jeff Ricchetti $ 60,000, according to a disclosure he filed with the government.
The company’s top lobbying and communications director, Jay Carney, served as the communications director for Mr. Biden in the Obama administration. President Barack Obama later appointed Mr. Carney as White House press secretary. He has deep ties to Mr. Biden’s inner circle, and has played in a garage band with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Under Mr. Carney’s leadership, Amazon has taken steps to please its liberal critics. In 2018, Sen. Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, attacked the company over their salaries. Not long after that, the company announced that it would raise the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour and urge federal policymakers to do the same.
“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do and decided we wanted to lead,” Mr Bezos said in a statement at the time.
Amazon advertised a minimum of $ 15 an hour for ads on publications commonly used to reach government officials, including Politico and The New York Times. Its lobbyists have pushed a federal law to raise wages.
Trade union organizers in Bessemer increasingly gain support from the White House and top legislators in Congress. Labor leaders have spent weeks urging Mr. Biden’s employees to let him consider the election at the warehouse.
Their lobbying was a success: In February, Mr. Biden appears in a video That doesn’t explicitly mention Amazon but is seen as a clear sign of support for the alliance. In the video, he said “no threats, no coercion, no threats” from employers in upcoming union elections, including in Alabama.
Sara Nelson, president of the Airline Cabin Crew Association, said: “I don’t speak to the president directly, but I understand that the second thing goes into the president’s summary book, he’s like, ‘I am Join ‘, “said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Air Stewardesses.
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer in New York and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California all support the unification effort, as are many other Democrats in Congress.
Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, said: “We must protect all workers’ right to form and join trade unions, and bargain collectively for better pay. quality healthcare, safer workplaces and safe retirement, ”said Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, where Amazon is headquartered. “That totally includes Amazon workers in Alabama, just as workers in Washington State and across our country.”
Some liberals say Amazon’s opposition to union dynamics could undermine some of the goodwill it has established among Democrats in favor of dark wages. the federal minimum is higher.
Mr. Sanders said he appreciated Amazon’s help with the minimum wage. “On the other hand,” he said, “to my mind I find it difficult to understand why Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon and the richest person in the world, worth about $ 182 billion, is spending. million dollars to fight an alliance. an organizational effort in Alabama, where his workers are trying to get better wages and better working conditions. “
But he said that he will eventually approach the company “one by one.”
Mr. Sanders will appear at a union event in Alabama with rapper Killer Mike on Friday. Mr. Clark, the chief executive officer of Amazon, responded with mockery Wednesday night.
“I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of the recruiters, but that’s not entirely true because we really provide a progressive workplace for our voters,” he said. to speak on Twitter.
It recalled the message Amazon had been waiting for a delegation of progressive lawmakers to meet with union representatives in Alabama this month.
At the warehouse, the workers held up a large banner with bold words: “HAPPY HAPPY: Treat AMAZON’S $ 15 / HOUR MINIMUM PAY!”
Karen Weise Contribution reports.