Bernie Sanders applauds the ‘courage’ of Amazon workers for taking on the tech giant, says failed union vote will inspire other unionization efforts

sanders bezos amazon senate budget
Sen. Bernie Sanders, left, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, right. Getty Images

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders said Amazon workers will inspire other union-organizing efforts.
  • Workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon plant voted the union down 1,798 to 738.
  • Sanders has previously criticized Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for trying to stop unionization efforts.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sen. Bernie Sanders applauded Amazon workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, factory for taking on the company, even as a majority of votes were against unionizing.

“The willingness of Amazon workers in Bessemer to take on the wealthiest man in the world and a powerful company in an anti-union state is an inspiration,” Sanders said on Twitter, in response to news of the failed union attempt. “It takes an enormous amount of courage to stand up and fight back, and they should be applauded.”

The intense campaigning from union activists and Amazon ended with a decisive victory for the online retailer, as 1,798 workers voted against the union, and 738 workers voted for it.

In further tweets, Sanders said he agrees with calls for an investigation into the tactics the company used in its efforts to defeat the organizing attempt.

“The workers were up against a company that was willing to spend vast sums of money and use every kind of tactic there is to defeat them,” he said.

“The history of every struggle in this country tells us that we do not always win the first time out,” Sanders added. “But I believe, as a result of their courage, workers in Alabama will inspire significant growth in union organizing efforts around the country.”

Read more: Amazon employees blast the forced return to offices as unfair, and Facebook and Oracle appear to be trying to poach frustrated remote workers

Progressive International, a global organization that backs progressive ideas, said efforts to create an Amazon union, even as it was rejected, “planted powerful seeds to #MakeAmazonPay.”

In a statement, Amazon thanked employees for participating in the election, and said, “There’s been a lot of noise over the past few months, and we’re glad that your collective voices were finally heard.”

“It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true,” the statement read.

Sanders had been sparring with Amazon in the weeks leading up to the union vote and even visited workers at the Bessemer, Alabama warehouse.

Prior to that, the Vermont senator criticized Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for not showing up to a Congressional hearing and said had the executive been present he would have said, “you’re the wealthiest person in the world. Why are you doing everything in your power to stop your workers in Bessemer, Alabama, from joining a union?”

The company later fired back at the senator, with Amazon Consumer Chief Dave Clark tweeting Sanders “should save his finger wagging lecture until after he actually delivers in his own backyard,” referencing minimum wage legislation.

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Bernie Sanders will travel to Alabama to meet with Amazon workers pushing to unionize amid his battle with Jeff Bezos

Bernie Sanders Jeff Bezos
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders said he’d travel to Alabama on Friday to meet with Amazon workers.
  • The visit would come in the final days of a union vote at Amazon’s Bessemer fulfillment center.
  • Sanders has repeatedly criticized CEO Jeff Bezos and his $184 billion fortune.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sen. Bernie Sanders will reportedly travel to Alabama this week to meet with Amazon workers attempting to unionize amid an ongoing battle with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

According to the Washington Post, CNN, and the Intercept, the Vermont senator will make the trip to Bessemer, Alabama, on Friday. Workers there have until March 29 to submit their votes on whether or not to form a union, which would be the first in Amazon’s history.

Representatives for Sanders and Amazon did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Sanders’ trip to Alabama is the latest developing in his clash with Bezos. During a Senate hearing earlier this month, Sanders criticized Bezos’ wealth and Amazon’s efforts to encourage workers to vote “no” on the union. Bezos declined an invitation to testify at the hearing, which was titled “The Income and Wealth Inequality Crisis in America.”

“If he was with us this morning, I would ask him the following question … Mr. Bezos, you are worth $182 billion – that’s a B,” Sanders said. “One hundred eighty-two billion dollars; you’re the wealthiest person in the world. Why are you doing everything in your power to stop your workers in Bessemer, Alabama, from joining a union?”

Bezos’ net worth has since ticked up to $184 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire’s Index.

Read more: A new program puts Amazon in position to take a big slice of $50 billion in government spending. Sellers worry that it gives Amazon too much power.

Sanders has criticized Bezos’ wealth several times in the past, telling CNN this month that the CEO is the emblem of “unfettered capitalism” in America. Sanders has also put pressure on Bezos to raise the minimum wage for Amazon employees and introduced a bill in 2018 called Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies, or “Stop BEZOS.” The bill did not receive a vote and died in Congress, but that same year, Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Amazon and its Alabama union vote has drawn the attention of other politicians as well, including Sen. Marco Rubio, who came out in support of the union, and President Joe Biden, who said in a video that “there should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda” from employers.

Amazon has been staunchly opposed to the formation of the union, arguing that a union would only cost workers more money in dues and provide benefits Amazon already gives them. The company has aggressively advocated for employees to vote “no”: Employees told Insider that Amazon started handing out “Vote No” pins and hosting frequent informational meetings about unions, in addition to airing anti-union ads on Twitch and placing anti-union signs in bathrooms.

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Bernie Sanders rips into Jeff Bezos: ‘You are worth $182 billion … why are you doing everything in your power to stop your workers’ unionizing?

Bernie Sanders Jeff Bezos
  • Bezos declined Sanders’ invitation to testify, but the senator had harsh words for the CEO.
  • The senator criticized Amazon countering a union drive in Alabama amid the CEO’s record wealth.
  • The hearing included testimony from a pro-union worker at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

At a hearing on Wednesday morning, Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke critically about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who declined Sanders’ invitation to testify, and Elon Musk, the two wealthiest men in the world.

“Bezos and Musk now own more wealth than the bottom 40%. Meanwhile, we’re looking at more hunger in America than at any time in decades,” Sanders said in his opening remarks at the Senate Budget Committee hearing, which was titled The Income and Wealth Inequality Crisis in America.

“If he was with us this morning, I would ask him the following question … Mr. Bezos, you are worth $182 billion, that’s a ‘b,'” Sanders said. “$182 billion, you’re the wealthiest person in the world. Why are you doing everything in your power to stop your workers in Bessemer, Alabama from joining a union?”

The unionization push currently being voted on at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center has been the focal point for a high-profile labor dispute between the behemoth “everything store” and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Amazon has aggressively pushed its workers to vote against unionization, launching a campaign called “Do it Without Dues” to encourage workers to stick to the status quo.

Read more: Joe Biden’s statement on unions is a warning for Amazon and other employers to take labor laws seriously

Sanders pointed out the disparity between Bezos’ wealth growth during the pandemic and the struggles of rank-and-file workers.

“Jeff Bezos has become $77 billion richer during this horrific pandemic, while denying hundreds of thousands of workers who work at Amazon paid sick leave,” he said.

Jennifer Bates, an employee at the Bessemer warehouse who testified at Wednesday’s hearing, said that the unionization efforts are an attempt to “have a level playing field.” Bates cited tough working conditions, long hours, and a lack of job security as major drivers of the unionization efforts.

“Amazon brags it pays workers above the minimum wage,” she said. “What they don’t tell you is what those jobs are really like. And they certainly don’t tell you what they can afford.”

When asked what having a union would mean to her and her coworkers, Bates said that it would result in their voices being “amplified,” and that it would result in a “sense of empowerment.”

“And not just at the Amazon in Bessemer,” she added, “but all over the country.”

“We take employee feedback seriously, including Ms. Bates’s, but we don’t believe her comments represent the more than 90% of her fulfillment center colleagues who say they’d recommend Amazon as a great place to work to friends and family,” an Amazon spokesperson told Insider. “We encourage people to speak with the hundreds of thousands of Amazon employees who love their jobs, earn at least $15 an hour, receive comprehensive healthcare and paid leave benefits, prefer direct dialogue with their managers, and voted Amazon #2 on the Forbes best employers list in 2020.”

While much of the hearing was devoted to the Amazon unionization fight, which will be decided at the end of March, Sanders pointed out that “Amazon and Jeff Bezos are not alone” and decried the “corporate greed” that drives income inequality.

Others testifying at the hearing included former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who cited the importance of unions and the steep decline in union membership since the labor heyday of the mid-1900s.

Sanders has been a vocal critic of Amazon, while Joe Biden has taken a softer approach in referencing the union drive. In a statement earlier in March, Biden condemned “anti-union propaganda” from large companies, but stopped short of explicitly naming Amazon.

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Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos has turned down an invite from Bernie Sanders to testify before the Senate about income inequality

sanders bezos amazon senate budget
Sen. Bernie Sanders, left, invited Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, right, to appear before the Senate Budget Committee.

  • Billionaire Jeff Bezos has snubbed Bernie Sanders’ invite to testify before the Senate on inequality.
  • At the hearing, an Amazon employee who is part of a unionization push is scheduled to speak.
  • Sanders criticized Bezos for not attending and for trying to prevent workers from unionizing.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has turned down an opportunity to testify before the Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday, according to CNN.

The world’s richest person declined an invite from Sen. Bernie Sanders to speak at a hearing on wealth and income inequality, a spokesperson for Sanders told the media outlet.

An Amazon representative said that while Bezos is unavailable to appear before the committee, he supports Sanders’ efforts to address inequality.

“We fully endorse Senator Sanders’ efforts to reduce income inequality with legislation to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers, like we did for ours in 2018,” the spokesperson told CNN.

Sanders responded to the invite snub on Twitter. “It’s unfortunate Mr. Bezos won’t join our hearing,” he wrote. “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?”

At the hearing, Amazon employee Jennifer Bates will speak. She is part of an effort to form a union at one of the company’s warehouses in Bessemer, Alabama.

If workers at the warehouse vote in favor of unionization, this would be the first Amazon workers’ union in the US.

Amazon has aggressively targeted workers and encouraged them to vote against unionizing, Insider’s Isobel Asher Hamilton previously reported. Banners and fliers have been put up in bathrooms and anti-union adverts on Twitch were published, Asher Hamilton reported.

“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.

Sanders has a history of criticizing Bezos, who is worth over $180 billion. Before the news that the billionaire would not testify, Sanders told CNN that he is “in many respects emblematic of the unfettered capitalism that we are seeing in America today.”

In 2018, Sanders pressured the Amazon boss to raise the company’s minimum wage. He introduced a bill called Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies, or “Stop BEZOS.” Amazon responded by raising its minimum wage in October 2018.

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