Amazon Walks a Political Tightrope in Its Union Fight

Washington – The Amazon is aligned with the Biden administration on several fronts.

It supports a $ 15-hour federal minimum wage. It has pledged to meet all the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement on reducing emissions. It has met with the administration and discussed how to help in the delivery of Kovid-19 vaccines.

But at a union drive in one of its warehouses in Alabama, the retailer serves as a political balance: being on the good side of Washington’s Democratic leaders, while thwarting an organized effort, President Biden has indicated his support.

Bessemer, Ala. Amazon activists in the United States have been voting for weeks to form the union. Voting ends on Monday. The approval will be the first for Amazon workers in the United States and could activate the labor movement nationwide.

Labor organizers cited dissatisfaction about the working conditions at the warehouse, stating that Amazon’s pursuit of efficiency and profits makes conditions tougher for workers. The company counts that a starting salary of $ 15 exceeds the salaries of other employers in that area, and it has urged workers to vote against unionizing.

Labor leaders and liberal democrats have Seized on Union Drive, Showing how Amazon is not as friendly to workers as the company says. Some critics of the company are using its resistance to the union’s push to argue that Amazon should not rely on other issues, such as climate change and the federal minimum wage.

Amazon has always fought against union by its workers. But the vote in Alabama comes at a dangerous moment for the company. Lawmakers and regulators – not competitors – are some of its biggest threats, and it has spent significant time and money to keep the government away from its business.

Amazon’s trade practices are the subject of antitrust investigations at the Federal Trade Commission and several state attorney general offices. Mr biden on monday Nominee Leena KhanA legal scholar who came to prominence for a seat at the FTC with his own critic of the company

“I think everyone is looking through PR at this point and focusing on both their economic and political power,” Sarah Miller, a critic at Amazon, said of the company. Ms. Miller, who runs the American Economic Liberties Project, went on an antitrust think tank, saying, “I think the narrative now ripens on her status as a monopoly, her status as an abusive employer and the biggest His status as one of the spenders. Lobbying in Washington, DC

Amazon’s vice president for worldwide communications, Drew Heerdner, said in a statement that the company shared a shared base with the Biden administration on climate change, immigration reform, minimum wages and pandemic policy, and “truly positive cooperation on those fronts Given “. white House.

“As it relates to progressive Democrats in general, we’ve been surprised by some of the negative things we’ve seen some members say on the press and 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 percent education reimbursement, safe working environment, and so on. We really think that we are an example of what an American company should do for its employees. “

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Amazon spent $ 18.7 million on federal lobbying last year, compared to $ 2.1 million a decade ago. Its advocates press their employer’s case on various issues, such as how drones are regulated and laws that regulate pharmacies.

Consumers love Amazon. At the end of 2019, A national survey by The Verge, A technology news site, found that 91 percent had a favorable outlook for the retail giant. When professors at Georgetown and New York Universities Asked americans in 2018 The institutions he trusted the most were ranked higher than just Amazon.

Still, when Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos testified before Congress last year, he faced allegations that the company squeezed small businesses that use its online marketplace. A liberal charity organization Funded A network of activists to suppress Amazon on privacy, competition, and labor issues. He has also attacked Mr. Bezos, the world’s richest man, by some measure, for his personal wealth.

Amazon has made efforts to reach out to the new administration. Dave Clarke, who runs the company’s consumer business, sent a letter to the White House in January to help with the delivery of the coronovirus vaccine and with White House Coronavirus Coordinator Jeff Zetters to discuss the rollout of the vaccine met up with.

In December, the company also hired lobbyist Jeff Riksheti, whose brother, Steve Riksheti, is a longtime associate of Mr. Biden and is now a presidential consultant. In the final quarter of last year, Amazon paid Jeff Ricketti $ 60,000, according to disclosures filed with the government.

The company’s top lobbying and communications executive, Jay Carney, was a communications director for Mr. Biden during the Obama administration. President Barack Obama later named Mr. Carney the White House press secretary. He has a deep connection with Mr. Biden’s inner circle, and has starred in a garage band with Secretary Antony Blinken.

Under Mr. Carney’s leadership, Amazon has taken steps to satisfy its liberal critics. In 2018, Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, attacked the company over his wages. After a long time, the company announced that it would make its minimum wage at $ 15 per hour and would push federal policymakers to do so.

“We listen to our critics, think hard about what we want to do and decide we want to lead,” Mr. Bezos said in a statement at the time.

Amazon has generated a $ 15-hour minimum of publicity in publications used to access government advertisements, including Politico and The New York Times. Its advocates have pushed forward a federal law raising wages.

Union organizers in Bessemer have drawn support from top lawmakers in the White House and Congress. Labor leaders spent weeks pushing Mr. Biden’s staff to weigh in on the election in the warehouse.

His lobbying payment: In February, Mr. Biden Appeared in a video It did not explicitly refer to Amazon, but was seen as a clear sign of support for the union. In the video, he said that there should be “no intimidation, no coercion, no threat from employers” in the union elections to be held in Alabama.

“I didn’t speak directly with the president, but my understanding was that the second one hit the presidential briefing book, that was like, ‘I’m in’,” said Sarah Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants.

Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer of New York and Speaker of California Nancy Pelosi, both support unionization efforts, as do many other Democrats in Congress.

“We’ve got every worker to protect the right to form and join the union, and to bargain collectively for better pay, quality health care, a safer workplace and a safer retirement,” Senator Patty Murray, Said a Democrat in Washington, where the Amazon is its main headquarters. Like workers in Washington state and in our country “Alabama workers are absolutely involved in Alabama.”

Some liberals said that opposition to Amazon could lead to opposition to the union drive.

Mr. Sanders said he appreciated Amazon’s help on the minimum wage. “On the other hand,” he said, “in my mind, I’m having a hard time understanding that Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon and the world’s richest man, is worth about $ 182 billion, spending millions of dollars to fight the union. Is trying to organize in Alabama, where their workers are trying to get organized for better wages and better working conditions. “

But he said he would eventually contact the “company with the problem”.

Mr. Sanders will appear in Alabama on Friday at a union show with rapper Killer Mike. Amazon executive Mr Clarke responded to the news on Wednesday evening.

“I often say that we are Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not true at all because we really give a progressive workplace to our constituents,” said On twitter

It recalled the message in which Amazon awaited a delegation of progressive lawmakers who met with union representatives in Alabama this month.

In the warehouse, workers placed a large banner with the text in bold letters: “ATTENTION: PLEASE AMAZON $ 15 / HOUR MINIMUM WAGE!”

Karen Wise Contributed to reporting.

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