Technology

Amazon Blasts Bernie Sanders as He Heads to Alabama to Support Union Drive

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  • Amazon's consumer boss, Dave Clark, took swipes at Sen. Bernie Sanders in a series of tweets on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • On Friday, Sanders will meet with workers from Amazon's Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse, who are currently in the midst of voting whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
  • Amazon and some of its executives have previously traded jabs with Sanders, who is a frequent Amazon critic.

Amazon's consumer boss took a swipe at Sen. Bernie Sanders for planning a visit to Alabama, where a historic union election is currently underway at one of the company's warehouses.

Dave Clark, CEO of Amazon's worldwide consumer business, fired off a series of tweets late Wednesday and Thursday morning, defending the company's labor practices and taking jabs at the independent senator from Vermont over the debate around raising the federal minimum wage.

On Friday, Sanders, rapper Killer Mike and actor Danny Glover are set to meet with Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon workers who are in the process of voting whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The meeting will take place at a RWDSU union hall in Birmingham, Alabama. Workers began voting by mail on Feb. 8 and ballots are due by Monday. Counting will begin the following day.

"I welcome [Sanders] to Birmingham and appreciate his push for a progressive workplace," Clark wrote in a tweet Wednesday. "I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that's not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace."

Clark then doubled down Thursday, arguing that the minimum wage in Sanders' home state of Vermont is $11.75 an hour, while starting pay for Amazon workers is $15 per hour.

In a statement, RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum called Clark's statements "arrogant and tone deaf."

He added that he questions whether Amazon believes "that the wage they pay — which is below what workers in nearby unionized warehouses receive and below Alabama's median wage — gives them the right to mistreat and dehumanize their employees, put their workers' health and safety in jeopardy, require them to maintain an unbearable pace, which even Amazon itself admits that a quarter of their workforce won't be able to meet, and to deny working men and women the dignity and respect they deserve.

"If the working conditions were so great, Amazon wouldn't have such an extraordinarily high turnover rate of over 100 percent a year at its facilities," Appelbaum said.

Amazon and some of its executives have previously taken jabs at Sanders, who is a frequent critic of the company. Following criticism from Sanders and other labor advocates, Amazon in 2018 announced it would raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Additionally, last week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos turned down an invitation from Sanders to appear in front of the Senate Budget Committee for a hearing on income inequality. Sanders, who is chairman of that committee, also invited Jennifer Bates, a worker from the Bessemer warehouse where the union election is taking place, to testify.

Amazon has played defense as support for the union drive has ramped up from President Joe Biden and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. In recent weeks, the company has frequently responded to critics of its labor practices on Twitter and it has promoted its $15-an-hour minimum wage in print and digital ads.

Labor leaders and lawmakers have seized on the election for its potential to kick-start similar movements at more companies and in other industries. Some Amazon employees in other corners of the country are hoping that the union drive will be successful so that they can ignite support to organize their own workplaces.

Amazon has previously said it respects workers' right to join a union, but also that its workers don't need a union to come between them and the company. It has held mandatory meetings with workers stating the case against unionizing and set up a website urging workers to "do it without dues."

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