President Biden expressed solidarity with workers attempting to unionize an Amazon facility in Alabama in a video released Sunday that emphasized his broad support of the labor movement — without explicitly backing their cause or naming the company itself.
Around 6,000 workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, a former steel town outside of Birmingham, are voting over the next week on whether they want to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
If successful, they would be the first of Amazon’s 400,000 American workers to join a union — a landmark undertaking and early test of Mr. Biden’s campaign claim that he will be the “most pro-union president” ever.
“Workers in Alabama, and all across America, are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace,” Mr. Biden said in a direct-to-camera address posted on the White House Twitter page, after a recent pressure campaign by pro-union groups pushing him to weigh in on the drive.
“Let me be really clear: It’s not up to me to decide whether anyone should join a union,” he said. “But let me be even more clear: It’s not up to an employer to decide that either.”
It is unusual for a president to weigh in on a labor dispute, and Mr. Biden was careful to skirt an all-out endorsement of the drive in his two-minute address. But he warned Amazon and its supporters that “there should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda.”
Amazon, which has fought off attempts to unionize its American work force, has been working against the effort, summoning workers to mandatory meetings — and placing anti-union fliers in the stalls in the facility’s bathrooms.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Amazon’s chief spokesman, Jay Carney, was Mr. Biden’s press secretary during his early years as vice president and went on to become President Barack Obama’s press secretary.
More than 2,000 of the warehouse’s workers signed cards indicating interest in joining the union, meeting the threshold to hold a vote under National Labor Relations Board rules.
The site of the unionization drive is not insignificant. Alabama was a key battleground for the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, and many of the workers at the Bessemer facility are Black, a fact that Mr. Biden noted on Sunday. But Alabama is now a right-to-work state, making it harder for unions to organize or negotiate with employers — which has made it a draw for big companies, especially auto manufacturers.
The unionization drive takes place at a time of “reckoning on race,” Mr. Biden said, adding, “It reveals the deep disparities that still exist in our country.”