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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) walks with Amazon workers during a rally outside one of the company's buildings in New York City on April 24, 2022.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) walks with Amazon workers during a rally outside one of the company's buildings in New York City on April 24, 2022. (Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)

Sanders to Hold Hearing on Whether Taxpayer Dollars Should 'Go to Companies That Violate Labor Laws'

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders has invited Amazon founder and mega-billionaire Jeff Bezos to testify.

Kenny Stancil

Sen. Bernie Sanders announced Monday that the Senate Budget Committee is planning to hold a hearing later this week to discuss ending federal contracts to corporations engaged in illegal anti-union practices.

The hearing—titled "Should Taxpayer Dollars Go to Companies that Violate Labor Laws?"—is scheduled for Thursday, May 5.

Sanders (I-Vt.), who chairs the committee, said the federal government awards more than $600 billion worth of contracts each year to companies employing more than four million contract workers.

"However, nearly 30% of the top 200 violators of workplace safety and wage theft are government contractors," according to a statement from the progressive lawmaker's office. "Between 2014 and 2019, federal contractors were required to pay nearly $225 million in back wages to workers for Service Contract Act violations."

The statement singles out Amazon, accusing the retail giant of becoming "the poster child for illegal anti-union behavior while raking in billions in federal contracts."

"Since 2004," said Sanders' office, "Amazon has received thousands of federal contracts worth billions of dollars, and is currently in line to receive a $10 billion cloud contract from the National Security Agency. Blue Origin may also soon receive a contract from NASA worth up to $10 billion."

And yet, in 2021 alone, Amazon spent $4.3 million on anti-union consultants in a bid to "illegally prevent its warehouses from unionizing," says the statement. In addition to getting hit with more than $75 million in penalties for violations of federal anti-discrimination and wage laws, Amazon is facing a lawsuit from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for unlawful anti-union retaliation as well as nearly 60 Unfair Labor Practice cases.

Sanders has invited Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the second-richest person in the world with an estimated net worth of more than $170 billion, to testify at Thursday's hearing.

Last week, as Amazon workers at the LDJ5 warehouse in Staten Island were voting on whether to unionize like their counterparts at the neighboring JFK8 facility did one month ago, the democratic socialist from Vermont urged President Joe Biden to cancel the e-commerce giant's federal contracts in response to its unlawful union-busting efforts across the nation.

Sanders' demand came as union leaders and lawmakers push the New York attorney general to investigate whether Amazon has made itself ineligible for state-level taxpayer subsidies by violating labor laws. According to Good Jobs First, Amazon has received at least $4.18 billion in state and local subsidies since 2000.

"If we do not stop subsidizing Amazon's warehouses," New York Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-40) recently told The Lever, "New York state becomes complicit in subsidizing union-busting practices with taxpayer money."

On Monday, the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) came up short in its latest organizing effort in New York City.

Prior to the defeat, which may still be challenged by the ALU, organizers at LDJ5 accused the corporation of "playing really dirty" to crush the union drive.

Before ALU's historic election victory at JFK8 last month, which Amazon is trying to overturn, the company forced workers to attend hundreds of captive-audience meetings, threatened workers with pay cuts, and hired a Democratic Party-aligned firm to assist with its failed union-busting campaign.

The NLRB alleged in a formal complaint filed in January that the company "repeatedly broke the law by threatening, surveilling, and interrogating their Staten Island warehouse workers who are engaged in a union organizing campaign."

Meanwhile, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) filed more than 20 objections to Amazon's conduct with the NLRB following an inconclusive early April election in Bessemer, Alabama—the second unionization attempt by the retail giant's warehouse workers in that city after the 2021 vote was invalidated due to unlawful corporate interference.

ALU president Christian Smalls—fired by Amazon in March 2020 after he organized a walkout at JFK8 to protest the company's refusal to adequately protect workers during the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic—is set to testify at Thursday's hearing.

Recent polling shows that 75% of U.S. adults support unionization efforts at Amazon. Recent data on surging workplace injuries and the widening chasm between CEO-to-median-worker pay at the country's second-largest employer reveals the consequences of a 40-year corporate assault on collective bargaining carried out with bipartisan support.

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