Writing in USA Today on Friday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) made a surprise endorsement of a fledgling union at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. In the op-ed, Rubio frames the union drive as a necessary response to the encroaching power of Amazon, a longtime target for Republicans.
“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,” Rubio writes in the op-ed. “And that’s why I stand with those at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse today.”
Workers at the Bessemer warehouse are in the process of voting on whether to unionize, as overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. Amazon had sought to delay the vote or require in-person voting, but both efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. The election process will conclude at the end of the month, with a simple majority required to certify the union.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which will represent the Bessemer workers if the union drive is successful, applauded the op-ed. “We welcome support from all quarters,” said RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum in a statement. “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.”
Amazon has mounted an aggressive campaign in opposition to the union drive, posting materials on the worksite and running digital ads across a variety of platforms highlighting the benefits of a union-free workplace. In one incident, Amazon managers worked with local county officials to alter the timing on a streetlight near the warehouse, a move union organizers believe was made in order to hamper the union campaign.
Coming from a conservative Republican, the endorsement will surprise many — but it’s not the first time Rubio has offered measured support to labor unions. In an Atlantic essay in December 2018, he wrote “any discussion of the dignity of work should mention unions,” referring back to his father’s experience with the Culinary Workers Union.
Notably, the op-ed stops short of a general endorsement of organized labor, maintaining that “adversarial labor relations are generally harmful.” Rubio also frames his support for the union in conservative terms, presenting it as a bulwark against cultural liberalism in the workplace. “Today it might be workplace conditions,” the Senator writes, “but tomorrow it might be a requirement that the workers embrace management’s latest ‘woke’ human resources fad.”
The op-ed comes after a video statement from President Biden earlier this month, which expressed broad support for workers’ right to unionize at the Alabama site and elsewhere, warning employers against anti-union efforts in a phrase that many saw as aimed at Amazon. “There should be no intimidation,” Biden says in the video, “no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda.”
The fight over the Bessemer union drive is due to come before Congress as soon as next week. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has been invited to testify on Wednesday before the Senate Budget Committee next week, on the same day a worker from the Bessemer plant is scheduled to speak.
The committee is chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), one of the earliest Congressional supporters of the Bessemer organizing campaign. “It cannot be overstated how powerful it will be if Amazon workers in Alabama vote to form a union,” Sanders said in February. “If they win, it will not only improve wages and working conditions in Bessemer, but it will also send a shockwave around the country.”
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