Joe Biden has demanded that Amazon not intimidate or threaten workers who are voting to join a union at an Alabama warehouse.
“The choice to join a union is up to the workers — full stop,” the US president said in a video posted on Twitter on Sunday evening.
Almost 6,000 workers at a warehouse in Bessemer, near Birmingham, began voting on unionisation in February and have until March 29 to return a postal ballot.
It is the first time an entire Amazon facility in the US has had the chance to vote on joining a union. The company has long resisted such efforts, citing its above-minimum wage pay and benefits to argue that there was no need for a union.
As voting began, Amazon launched an anti-union website and put up posters around the facility that urged a “No” vote. It has also held mandatory meetings during work to dissuade workers from supporting the effort.
Biden stopped short of explicitly endorsing the campaign but spoke of his belief that America’s middle classes were built by workers with union protections.
“Let me be really clear,” Biden said. “It’s not up to me to decide whether anyone should join a union. But let me be even more clear: it’s not up to an employer to decide that either.”
He echoed the recent demands of a large group of Amazon investors who called for the company to play a neutral role while workers voted. They criticised what they saw as overly-aggressive techniques to sway the outcome, including attempts to force the vote to be conducted in person during the pandemic.
Biden added: “There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda. No supervisor should confront employees about their union preferences.”
Last week, a group of 37 labour groups wrote to the president urging him to support the effort in Alabama, noting that on the campaign trail he had vowed to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen”.
On Sunday, Biden’s video message was praised by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the group which the Amazon workers would join if the vote passed.
“Thank you, President Biden, for sending a clear message of support for the Amazon Union workers in Alabama seeking to bring the first union to an Amazon warehouse with the RWDSU,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the union’s president.
“As President Biden points out, the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is by organising into unions. And that is why so many working women and men are fighting for a union at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama.”
Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.