On a day billed as “Solidarity Sunday,” Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visited Amazon workers in New York City less than 24 hours before they start casting ballots on whether to form a union, after which Sanders departed to Richmond, Virginia to talk with Starbucks workers who have been organizing coffee shops around the nation.
Voting at Amazon’s 1,500-employee LDJ5 facility—located across the street from the JFK8 warehouse that made history just three weeks ago by becoming the first of the e-commerce giant’s U.S. workplaces to unionize—is set to begin on April 25.
“If [Jeff] Bezos can afford a $500 million yacht,” Sanders, I-Vt., said, referring to the company’s billionaire founder in a video promoting Sunday’s event, “he can afford to pay his workers at Amazon decent wages, decent benefits, and provide good working conditions.”
Speaking from a stage in Staten Island, Sanders told Amazon workers that they are “sending a message to every worker in America that the time is now to stand up to our oligarchy, to stand up to this excessive corporate greed, and create an economy that works for all, not just a few.”
Taking the mic from “Tío Bernie,” Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., congratulated the organizing committee of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) on its groundbreaking victory earlier this month, saying that it “reminded the world that you don’t need millions of dollars to stand up to multibillion-dollar corporations, you just gotta do the work. You just need solidarity, you need to show people that you give a damn about them, and they will come together and organize and demand better for their lives.”
ALU’s successful union drive at JFK8 “was the first domino to fall,” said Ocasio-Cortez, who called on Amazon to drop the dubious objections that it filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a bid to overturn the results.
Derrick Palmer, ALU’s vice president of organizing, said: “I’m glad that everyone is finally waking up and realizing the power that we have as an organization, as people… I think that’s been lost throughout these years, and I’m glad that it’s finally back.”
“We’ve woken the country up, and I want us to continue on this journey,” said Palmer. “I want us to win LDJ5.”
Amazon—which is notorious for mistreating its workers and spent $4.3 million on anti-union consultants in 2021 alone—has intensified its union-busting tactics in the lead-up to the election that starts Monday.
But “LDJ5 has been busting their ass, organizing day-in and day-out,” said Palmer. “We need to support them. And also we need to support all the Amazon facilities around the world who want to organize as well.”
ALU president Christian Smalls—terminated by Amazon in March 2020 after he organized a walkout at JFK8 to protest management’s refusal to adequately protect workers during the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic—admitted that he has a vendetta against the company that fired him.
“From that moment forward we never looked back,” said Smalls. “We said… we’re gonna go anywhere it’s necessary to advocate for worker’s rights,” and after Amazon defeated the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union last year in an Alabama election the NLRB invalidated due to corporate interference, he and his comrades decided to “bring it back home to New York.”
“We beat them, right here,” said Smalls, pointing to the JFK8 warehouse. “I’m so proud that our team expanded, the workers that are organizing expanded, and now we got to a point where the workers are now organizing themselves.”
Earlier this month, Sanders argued that ALU’s victory at JFK8 has the potential to spur “a national, sweeping movement.” A recent poll found that 75% of U.S. adults support unionization efforts at Amazon, and organizing is also underway at other powerful companies that have enjoyed record-breaking profits while workers get hammered by the pandemic and price gouging, including Starbucks and Apple.
According to Smalls, workers from more than 100 Amazon facilities reached out to ALU about organizing their workplaces in the first week after their stunning win on April 1.
“And it’s not just here at Amazon,” he said Sunday, adding that ALU has received emails from employees at Walmart, Target, Dollar General, Apple, and Starbucks. “The workers are gonna fight back and take over the country.”
Later on Sunday, ALU is planning to hold a rally to hear from its LDJ5 workers’ committee and national labor leaders, including Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, and Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union.
When asked if the Biden administration needs to do more to support organized labor, Sanders said, “Yes.”
President Joe Biden has “talked more about unions than any other president in my lifetime,” said Sanders. “But talk is not enough. What he’s gotta do is start inviting these guys to the White House, he’s gotta invite the Starbucks workers to the White House, the other unions that are organizing all over this country, and make it clear that he is on their side and that he is going to do what he can” to support the labor movement.
Sanders, who has not ruled out a third presidential bid if Biden doesn’t run in 2024, traveled directly from Staten Island to Virginia. There, he spoke with members of Starbucks Workers United, the union that has successfully organized hundreds of baristas nationwide in a matter of months, including those at five of the chain’s stores in Richmond.
“Like their Amazon brothers and sisters,” Sanders said in a promotional video, Starbucks workers “are also demanding decent wages, working conditions, and benefits. They are also taking on a billionaire who owns that company.”
Howard Schulz, an experienced union-buster who returned as Starbucks CEO this month amid an organizing wave in dozens of states—recently declared that the hugely profitable coffee chain is “being assaulted in many ways by the threat of unionization.”
Since the initial triumph of Starbucks workers in Buffalo, New York in December, employees at more than 200 of the corporation’s stores across the U.S. have filed petitions to unionize. Organizers have won more than 20 union elections so far, including at a flagship location in the company’s hometown of Seattle, and have lost just a handful of times.
Starbucks workers have defied what leaked video footage reveals is a concerted union-busting campaign. Last week, a group of 24 of the coffee giant’s employees urged the U.S. House of Representatives’ labor committee to compel Schultz to testify about what they called an incessant and unlawful effort to thwart a nationwide unionization push.
“What we are seeing now, in this very unusual moment in American history,” Sanders said, “are working people from coast to coast standing up and saying… something is wrong here. The billionaire class during this pandemic have made out like bandits. Their wealth is increasing exponentially while working people are falling further and further behind.”
“People are saying, enough is enough,” he added. “We’re gonna organize, we’re gonna form unions, we’re gonna collectively bargain. And I think that is enormously important for our economy and for our entire country.”