According to a news report from Politico, Senator Bernie Sanders has been amping up his rhetoric against government contractors, in particular a large company that has been in the news for union-related issues. While it is no secret that Senator Sanders is avidly pro-union, some of that rhetoric deserves a bit more scrutiny, if not a rebuttal, because in some cases his assertions are simply incorrect.
As Politico reported, Senator Sanders sent a letter on April 26 to President Joe Biden urging the President to issue “an Executive Order preventing companies that violate federal labor laws from contracting with the federal government.” Additionally, the letter goes on to call Amazon “the poster child as to why this anti-union busting Executive Order is needed now more than ever” because of allegedly “illegal anti-union activity.”
It’s important to examine this claim more closely. The Senator dislikes the fact that Amazon has hired consultants to provide advice on how to respond to an organizing campaign. This, however, is completely legal, and in fact a federal judge blocked an attempt by the Obama administration to restrict this practice. One could argue that seeking such assistance is a prudent step because labor relations consultants often are more well-versed in the complexities of labor policy and can prevent an employer from inadvertently violating the law.
Senator Sanders also asserts that as part of its “illegal anti-union activity, [Amazon] forced workers to attend closed-door” meetings at which the company presented its views on various implications of having union representation. That, likewise, is not illegal (although, as this blog recently highlighted, the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) general counsel would like to find a way to change that fact). The fact is that Section 8(c) of the National Labor Relations Act was included in the statute specifically to allow these types of meetings. Employees, incidentally, are paid for the time spent in such meetings.
In addition to those purported violations, Sanders complains that following the vote at one of its warehouses, “Amazon has not only refused to negotiate a first contract with them but refuses to recognize that the union exists even though the [NLRB] certified their union victory.” However, the fact that a union vote has taken place and even that the NLRB has certified that vote does not mean the certification process is complete. In fact, employers have the right to dispute the results of an election both at the NLRB and in federal court, and it makes little sense for an employer engaged in such proceedings to negotiate a collective bargaining contract.
The Senator also raises the issue of a worker who was fired for what he says was “organizing a union.” As the company noted, the worker in question was fired after verbally assaulting a female co-worker, as evidenced by this video, which illustrates behavior no reputable employer would tolerate. He also faults Amazon for the tragic death of six employees when their warehouse was struck by an EF-3 tornado that caused widespread damage across Illinois. But, he omits the fact that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied no fines or penalties following its investigation because Amazon’s facility met federal safety standards.
To ratchet up the pressure, the Senator recently held a budget hearing on the topic of denying federal contracts to companies that allegedly violate federal labor law. At that hearing Sen. Kaine (D-VA), refuted some of the more salacious claims about Amazon and noted that the company has created tens of thousands of jobs in his state with more on the way.
Senator Sanders is staunchly pro-union, which is well within his rights. He also has strong opinions about specific employers, which is also within his rights. That, however, is not a justification for making unsupportable accusations or misrepresenting the facts about labor law.
Story by Sean P. Redmond, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Sean P. Redmond is Vice President, Labor Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.