Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh met with labor organizers at the White House on Thursday as the administration seeks to boost organizing drives.
Attendees of the meeting, which included an unscheduled appearance by President Joe Biden, discussed organizers’ efforts to form unions in their workplaces and how these could inspire workers nationwide to organize similar campaigns. , according to a reading from the White House. Biden thanked them for bolstering the organizing momentum that is building nationwide.
Among the guests was Chris Smalls, who leads the Amazon Labor Union which won a vote last month to organize warehouse workers in Staten Island, New York. Addressing a labor conference in Washington last month, Biden joked, “By the way, Amazon here we come,” to loud cheers, though he didn’t elaborate.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said after the meeting that Biden’s attendance was intended to promote union organizing nationwide, not at Amazon specifically.
“The president has long been a supporter of workers’ rights to organize, collective bargaining rights and he came to this meeting to simply offer his support for those efforts,” Psaki said. “But he doesn’t engage – we don’t engage or get directly involved in labor disputes, obviously, but he certainly supports workers’ rights.”
Other organizers at Thursday’s meeting included those working to unionize Starbucks, outdoor retailer REI and animation studio Titmouse.
Prior to the meeting, Smalls testified at a Senate Budget Committee hearing on Amazon’s federal contracts. Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who chairs the committee, pressured the White House to break the company’s contracts with the government until the retailer stops what Sanders called his “unlawful anti-union activity”.
In a filing released in March, the company revealed that it spent around $4.2 million (around Rs 32 crore) last year on labor consultants, which organizers say Amazon hired to persuade workers not to unionize. Organizers believe scrapping Amazon’s federal contracts would fulfill the president’s campaign promise to ensure such deals only go to companies that sign deals “pledge not to wage union-busting campaigns.” .
Seattle-based Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Sanders’ office said Amazon founder Jeff Bezos refused to appear for the hearing.