Joe Biden meets Amazon union organiser in latest jab at retailer

US president has regularly chided company and expressed support for union push

Christian Smalls, founder of the Amazon Labour Union, speaks during a Senate Budget Committee hearing in Washington on May 5, 2022. Bloomberg
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US President Joe Biden met with a group of labour organisers on Thursday at the White House, including a former Amazon worker who led a Staten Island union drive.

Christian Smalls, the Amazon organiser, took part in a roundtable session hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris and Labour Secretary Marty Walsh. The session included young organisers and workers from a range of companies.

“Today I met with grassroots worker organisers to thank them for their leadership in organising unions,” Mr Biden tweeted. He added that Mr Smalls and other union officials “are inspiring a movement of workers across the country to fight for the pay and benefits they deserve".

Mr Biden has regularly chided Amazon and expressed support for the union push at the company last month.

“By the way, Amazon, here we come,” he said at the time.

Mr Smalls’s fledging Amazon Labour Union won an election in April to represent Amazon workers at a warehouse in New York’s Staten Island. Amazon has contested the result.

The union this week lost an election at a second, smaller Amazon facility across the street.

He tweeted after the meeting: "Just met the president lol; he said I got him in trouble."

Mr Smalls on Thursday also spoke at a hearing presided over by Bernie Sanders, a US senator, who has proposed barring companies that breach labour laws from winning federal contracts.

The Vermont independent said Amazon has “done everything possible — legal and illegal — to defeat union organizing efforts".

The Sanders proposal faces long odds. Identifying federal contracts linked to Amazon would be difficult, owing to limited disclosure and the company’s choice of selling its cloud products through dozens of resellers and systems integrators.

The company is grappling with an increasing number of unfair labour practice complaints from workers across the country. Employees have lodged 51 complaints so far this year, many of which came from Amazon locations in Staten Island and Bessemer, Alabama, where organising efforts have been under way.

In giving his evidence, Mr Smalls said federal contractors can break labour laws and get away with it and that the process workers can use to hold companies accountable is no longer working.

“It’s not a left or a right thing, it’s not a Democrat or Republican thing. It’s a worker thing,” Mr Smalls said.

Bloomberg News contributed reporting

Updated: May 06, 2022, 4:21 AM
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