Amid the ongoing surge in billionaire wealth during the coronavirus pandemic and the union drive underway at an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, Sen. Bernie Sanders announced Friday that Amazon warehouse worker Jennifer Bates will testify next week about the crisis of inequality in the United States—at a hearing to which Jeff Bezos, the company's chief executive and world's wealthiest person, has also been invited.
By inviting Bates to provide testimony to the Senate Budget Committee, which Sanders chairs, the Independent senator from Vermont is bringing a historic labor struggle to Capitol Hill, as the Washington Post framed it.
"What you are seeing right now in Bessemer is an example of the richest person in this country spending a whole lot of money to make it harder for ordinary working people to live with dignity and safety," Sanders told the Post in an interview.
In a statement released Friday, Sanders said that "millions of Americans are unemployed, underemployed, or have given up looking for work, while hunger in the country is at the highest level in decades. During the coronavirus pandemic, 63% of workers are living paycheck to paycheck, including millions of essential workers who put their lives on the line every day."
"Meanwhile," the senator continued, "the wealthiest people in the country are becoming much richer, and income and wealth inequality are soaring. Incredibly, during the pandemic, 664 billionaires in America have increased their wealth by $1.3 trillion."
"Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, owns more wealth than the bottom 39% of Americans combined," Sanders noted.
Why is Jeff Bezos denying hazard pay, paid sick leave & economic dignity to workers, while he became $78 billion richer during the pandemic & is now worth $183 billion? Bernie invited Mr. Bezos to testify in the Budget Committee to answer that question. https://t.co/dZi5xY02yo— Warren Gunnels (@GunnelsWarren) March 12, 2021
And yet—despite watching his fortune swell from $113 billion to $179.9 billion over the past 12 months, during which millions of people endured economic hardship—Bezos "is currently engaged in an aggressive union-busting campaign against Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama to stop them from collectively bargaining for better wages, benefits, and working conditions," Sanders added.
The senator told the Post that "Bezos has become a symbol of the unfettered capitalism that we are living under right now, when the very, very rich are doing phenomenally well while ordinary working people are struggling to put food on the table."
Sanders has publicly supported Amazon warehouse workers in their unionization push since they first filed notice with the National Labor Relations Board, calling the organizing effort in Alabama a potential "shot heard around the world," as Common Dreams reported in November.
With the Amazon workers in Bessemer now in the midst of a seven-week mail-in election that will run through the end of March, Sanders again emphasized the significance of the union drive in Alabama.
"If they can win, I think that will send a message to workers all over this country that if you are prepared to stand up and fight, you can win a union, you can win better wages and better working conditions," Sanders told the Post.
Bates, for her part, told Democracy Now! in an interview last month that "the reason why we're organizing is because we need an even playing field."
"We want to be heard," she added. "We want to be treated like people and not ignored when we have issues."