President Joe Biden acknowledged the historic labor victory at Amazon during a speech to union members and leaders on Wednesday, making what appeared to be a call to continue organizing the world’s largest online retailer.
Biden was speaking to a conference of North America’s Building Trades Unions in Washington, D.C., about the importance of collective bargaining when he leaned into the microphone, smiled and said, “By the way.”
“Amazon, here we come,” he said, drawing raucous cheers.
Last Friday, a new independent union called the Amazon Labor Union won a historic election at an Amazon warehouse in New York City, with workers voting 2,654 to 2,131 in favor of unionizing. If the results are certified, it will be the first union inside Amazon’s U.S. operations. The e-commerce giant had run an aggressive but ultimately unsuccessful campaign against the union.
Biden has cast himself as “the most pro-union president” ever, and often promotes the idea of workplace organizing to improve jobs. But his Amazon remark Wednesday ― perhaps off the cuff ― was unusual in that it was directed at a particular company, and one of the most powerful in the world.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked later in the day whether Biden’s comments should be taken as an endorsement of unionization at Amazon. Psaki said the president wouldn’t be “directly involved in any of these efforts.”
“What he was conveying is his longtime support for collective bargaining, for the rights of workers to organize, and for their decision to do exactly that in this case,” Psaki said.
However, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) seems to have taken Biden’s remark as an endorsement of organizing Amazon:
Last year, the president delivered an unprecedented speech about unionization in which he reprimanded companies like Amazon for interfering in organizing efforts. At the time, Amazon was pressuring workers at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, to vote against unionization there. Although Biden was clearly talking about the Amazon election, he did not cite the company by name in those remarks.
Biden took the stage Wednesday to chants of “Joe!” from building trades members. He used the speech to promote his administration’s policy proposals that would make it easier to organize. The rate of union membership in the U.S. private sector has fallen to just 6.1%, and the White House has vowed to help turn that around.
“That’s what unions are about in my view ― providing dignity and respect for people who bust their neck,” Biden said.
He also chided corporate America for not giving workers a larger piece of the pie.
“I’m a capitalist,” Biden said. “But for God’s sake, chip in and pay your fair share.”