Sen. Bernie Sanders—who is heading to Bessemer, Alabama on Friday to support Amazon warehouse workers organizing in the face of aggressive union-busting tactics—may have received an unexpected assist Wednesday when company executive Dave Clark's attempt to boast about Amazon's allegedly "progressive workplace" gave critics an opportunity to highlight the corporation's exploitative practices.
"It's the fight for $15 and a union movement. We won the first battle. The struggle for living wages, decent benefits, and safe working conditions continues."
"All I want to know," the Vermont Independent said Wednesday night, "is why the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, is spending millions trying to prevent workers from organizing a union so they can negotiate for better wages, benefits, and working conditions."
Sanders was responding to Clark, who tweeted: "I welcome Sen. Sanders to Birmingham and appreciate his push for a progressive workplace," adding sarcastically that "I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that's not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace for our constituents: a $15 minimum wage, healthcare from day one, career progression, and a safe and inclusive work environment."
Within minutes, Clark was inundated with links to reporting that exposes Amazon's utter failure to provide a safe and humane working environment.
— Nina Turner (@ninaturner) March 24, 2021
What’s that you were saying about your “progressive” workplace? https://t.co/MWw3hIfhj7
— Kim Kelly (@GrimKim) March 25, 2021
"You allowed 20,000 workers to contract Covid on your watch (at least!), covered it up, and then fired the employees who spoke out," tweeted Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), sharing an analysis from the Bezos-owned Washington Post.
"Maybe sit this one out," she recommended.
Desperate to downplay the negative publicity, Amazon News tried to deflect attention from the reports of Amazon workers being forced to urinate in bottles on the job, making the claim—which was quickly ridiculed as outlandish—that "if that were true, nobody would work for us."
Right, because throughout history no one has ever put up with exploitation to put food on the table.
— Bhaskar Sunkara (@sunraysunray) March 25, 2021
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As for Amazon's $15 minimum wage, progressive critics reminded Clark that the company increased its wage floor not in an unprompted act of benevolence but rather in the wake of pressure from Sanders and other allies, including Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who co-sponsored the Stop Bezos Act.
— Ken Klippenstein (@kenklippenstein) March 24, 2021
.@davehclark how ironic to now brag about paying $15 when we know Amazon did that in direct response to @BernieSanders and my Stop Bezos Act as Bezos himself suggested in a tweet. Not sure what’s more incompetent —your treatment of Alabama workers or your PR! https://t.co/PiRBT1b43o
— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) March 25, 2021
Regardless, critics added, a $15 minimum wage is an inadequate marker of a dignified job.
"Paying workers $15 an hour doesn't make you a 'progressive workplace' when you union-bust and make workers urinate in water bottles," tweeted Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and co-founder of the Labor Caucus.
Warren Gunnels, Sanders' staff director, issued a reminder: "It's the fight for $15 and a union movement. We won the first battle. The struggle for living wages, decent benefits, and safe working conditions continues on at the Amazon plant in Bessemer, Alabama versus the wealthiest man alive, Jeff Bezos, who is worth $184 billion."
Putting the focus back on the warehouse workers in Bessemer and their union drive, Sanders on Thursday morning said that he is "proud to stand in solidarity with Amazon workers in Alabama who are fighting for better wages and better working conditions."
I am proud to stand in solidarity with Amazon workers in Alabama who are fighting for better wages and better working conditions. If they win, they will improve the lives of workers at the warehouse in Alabama and all over this country. pic.twitter.com/w3luS3vjyP
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 25, 2021
"If they win," Sanders noted, "they will improve the lives of workers at the warehouse in Alabama and all over this country."
Nearly 6,000 workers are currently in the midst of voting on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. Mail-in ballots are due on March 29.