Workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse have already received public support from Democratic politicians ranging from Bernie Sanders to Joe Biden, the latter of whom promised to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen,” late last year. Now, as many look to unionize, the team is getting some political backing from a more unexpected place.
In an op-ed penned for USA Today, Marco Rubio threw support behind the workers, in spite of “dangers posed by the unchecked influence of labor unions.” The Florida Senator notes Republicans’ historical tendency of siding with management, but adds “the days of conservatives being taken for granted by the business community are over.”
The piece is hardly a full-throated embrace of labor unions in general, which have traditionally allied themselves with the political left. Rubio hedges slightly in the beginning noting that conflicts between unions and management “are wrong for both workers and our nation’s economic competitiveness,” but the politician cites “uniquely malicious corporate behavior.”
Here’s my standard: When the conflict is between working Americans and a company whose leadership has decided to wage culture war against working-class values, the choice is easy — I support the workers. And that’s why I stand with those at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse today.
In addition to addressing long-standing complaints against Amazon workplace conditions, the piece embraces some long-standing Republican culture war complaints. “Today it might be workplace conditions,” he says, “but tomorrow it might be a requirement that the workers embrace management’s latest ‘woke’ human resources fad.”
Politics and labor relations, it seems, make strange bedfellows. Though while organizers have often been on the left, the goal of unions (however you may feel about them in practice) is to protect the conditions of workers, regardless of political affiliation.
A number of lawmakers have traveled to Alabama to show support for workers at the warehouse, including Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Andy Levin, Terri Sewell and Nikema Williams. Workers at the warehouse, which employs around 6,000, kicked off a mail-in vote on February 7. The balloting ends later this month.
Ultimately, high-profile support may be a net positive for workers when it comes to pressuring a company. Union organizers sometimes caution against taking too much stock in such comments, however.
Asked about Biden’s support in a recent conversation with TechCrunch, NYU fellow, Clarissa Redwine noted, “First and foremost, it’s really important to remember that the things that people in power say do not matter. All of the power that you have doesn’t come from people at the top giving it to you. It comes from linking arms with the people next to you and taking that power and influence for yourself.”
Update: Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, offered TechCrunch the following comment, “We welcome support from all quarters. Senator Rubio’s support demonstrates that the best way for working people to achieve dignity and respect in the workplace is through unionization. This should not be a partisan issue.”
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