The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Sanders Asks President Biden to Fulfill Campaign Promise and Cancel Amazon's Federal Contracts

During remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Tuesday called for President Joe Biden to fulfill his campaign promise to prevent companies that are engaged in illegal anti-union activities, like Amazon, from receiving lucrative contracts from the federal government on the taxpayers dime. Sanders urged President Biden to sign an Executive Order to implement this plan.

Sanders' remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below.


During remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Tuesday called for President Joe Biden to fulfill his campaign promise to prevent companies that are engaged in illegal anti-union activities, like Amazon, from receiving lucrative contracts from the federal government on the taxpayers dime. Sanders urged President Biden to sign an Executive Order to implement this plan.

Sanders' remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below.

M. President, the American people are increasingly disgusted with the level of corporate greed that we are seeing in this country.

As you know, while prices are rapidly increasing corporate profits are soaring - in the oil industry, in the food industry, in housing, and many other areas. Meanwhile, while the very rich get richer because of inflation many workers are seeing a decline in their real wages.

During this pandemic, unbelievably, while workers struggle, the billionaire class has seen a $2 trillion increase in their wealth - and the level of income and wealth inequality today is the highest it's been in over 100 years. Two people, Mr. Musk and Mr. Bezos, now own more wealth than the bottom 42 percent - over 130 million Americans.

In the midst of all of this, working people have declared loudly and clearly that enough is enough. We must end this corporate greed.

Workers are now fighting back to improve their standard of living, to get the wages and benefits they need, and to get a seat at the negotiating table in a way that we have not seen in many years. They are organizing unions at a grassroots level and they are prepared to go out on strike when the greed of large corporations prevents them from receiving decent wages and decent benefits.

During the last couple of years I have personally been involved in a number of union organizing campaigns and strikes throughout the country - from the John Deere, Nabisco and Kellogg's strikes in the Midwest, to the Warrior Met strike in Alabama, to the Kroger's grocery store strike in Colorado. I have been enormously impressed by the courage and tenacity of these workers who are demanding nothing less than economic justice.

M. President, as you may know, an historic union victory was achieved nearly one month ago by Amazon workers in Staten Island.

Amazon, as you know, is one of the most profitable and one of the most powerful corporations in America. It is also one of the largest employers in America with close to a million employees.

We're talking about a company that made a record-breaking $36 billion profit last year - a 453% increase from where it was before the pandemic. In other words, Amazon is doing better today than it has ever done.

We're talking about a company that is owned by Jeff Bezos, the second wealthiest person in America worth $170 billion.

Interestingly, given our regressive and unfair tax system, we're talking about a company that paid nothing in federal income taxes in 2017 and 2018 and paid a lower tax rate than a nurse or a firefighter last year after making billions in profits.

We're also talking about Mr. Bezos, who, in a given year, despite his extraordinary wealth, also pays nothing in federal income taxes. That's what you can do when you make campaign contributions and have an army of accountants and lawyers working for you.

M. President, during the pandemic, Mr. Bezos, like other billionaires, became much richer. In fact, since March of 2020 Mr. Bezos became $65 billion richer. M. President, do you know why people in this country are angry? During the pandemic, tens of thousands of essential workers had no choice but to go to work. And they died. That's what happens when you live paycheck to paycheck. And during that same period, Mr. Bezos became $65 billion richer.

Mr. Bezos has enough money to own a $500 million, 417-foot mega-yacht.

He has enough money to afford a $175 million estate in Beverly Hills that includes a 13,600 square-foot mansion.

He has enough money to afford a $78 million, 14-acre estate in Maui.

He has enough money to own a $23 million mansion in Washington, DC with 25 bathrooms.

He has enough money to buy a rocket ship to blast William Shatner to the edge of outer space.

And yet, even though Mr. Bezos can afford all of those mansions and all of those yachts and all of those rocket ships, Mr. Bezos refuses to pay his workers decent wages, decent benefits or provide decent working conditions. This is what excessive greed is all about. And the American people want action.

From the very beginning of the union organizing effort until today, Mr. Bezos and Amazon have done everything possible, legal and illegal, to defeat the union.

In fact, Amazon cannot even come to grips with the reality that the workers in Staten Island won their union election fair and square. In order to stall the process out, their lawyers have appealed that election result to the NLRB. Their strategy is obviously to use their incredible wealth to stall, stall and stall.

In every way possible, they are refusing to negotiate a fair first contract with the Amazon Labor Union.

In fact, Amazon has been engaged in a massive attempt to undermine the union organizing drive - in direct violation of labor laws and regulations.

Let's be clear: Amazon has already been penalized more than $75 million for breaking federal discrimination and labor laws.

Amazon is currently being sued by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to reinstate a worker who was illegally fired for organizing a union.

To date, there are currently 59 unfair labor cases against Amazon pending at the NLRB.

Several current and former employees have alleged that Amazon has engaged in illegal harassment and discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation.

Amazon misclassifies delivery drivers as independent contractors rather than employees to evade tax, wage, and benefit responsibilities.

Amazon's inadequate workplace safety policies also pose grave risks to workers. If you can believe it, according to a New York Times investigation, Amazon has a 150% percent turnover rate. Workers come into the warehouses, they are worked as hard as humanly possible, and they leave. And a whole set of new workers come in to replace them.

Further, in some locations, their workplace injury rates are more than 2.5 times the industry average.

Last December, six Amazon workers died after they were required to continue working during unsafe weather conditions in a warehouse that did not have appropriate safety facilities or policies.

It is abundantly clear that time and time again Amazon has engaged in illegal anti-union activity.

Amazon may be a large and profitable corporation, it may be owned by one of the wealthiest people in America, but it cannot be allowed to continue to violate the law and the rights of its employees. If working people are asked to obey the law they do it or they are punished by the law. That same principle must be upheld for a large and powerful corporation like Amazon.

And that is why, this morning, I sent a letter to President Biden urging him to sign an executive order to prohibit companies like Amazon that have violated labor laws from receiving federal contracts paid for by the taxpayers of America.

Let me quote from this letter:

"Dear President Biden:

Last September, I was delighted to hear you state that you 'intend to be the most pro-union President leading the most pro-union administration in American history.'

At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, where too many workers are falling behind, your sentiment is exactly right. We need to build the trade union movement in America and allow more workers to engage in collective bargaining.

One of the most effective ways for you [President Biden] to begin accomplishing this important goal would be to ensure that no corporation that is engaged in illegal anti-union activities receives a contract paid for by the taxpayers of the United States.

As you will recall, during the presidential campaign you [President Biden] promised to 'institute a multi-year federal debarment for all employers who illegally oppose unions' and to 'ensure federal contracts only go to employers who sign neutrality agreements committing not to run anti-union campaigns.'

That campaign promise was exactly right. Today, I am asking you [President Biden] to fulfill that promise ... As you may know, Amazon, one of the largest and most profitable corporations in America, is the poster child as to why this anti-union busting Executive Order is needed now more than ever."

M. President: I ask unanimous consent to include the full text of my letter into the record.

President Biden, more than any other president in modern American history, has talked over and over again about being pro-union - and I appreciate the President's rhetoric and know him to be sincere on this issue.

Just this afternoon, in an article in Politico, in response to my letter, "A White House official said that the president 'has stated consistently and firmly that every worker in every state must have a free and fair choice to join a union and the right to bargain collectively with their employer.' The official, who declined to be named, added that Biden believes 'there should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, and no anti-union propaganda from employers while workers are making that vitally important choice about a union.'"

But that is exactly what is happening at Amazon. There is intimidation. There is coercion. There are threats and anti-union propaganda. In fact, all of that is precisely what Amazon is doing.

In my view, the time for talk is over. The time for action is now.

Taxpayer dollars should not go to companies like Amazon and multi-billionaires like Jeff Bezos who repeatedly break the law.

No government - not the federal government, not the state government and not the city government - should be handing out corporate welfare to union busters and labor law violators.

So today I say to President Biden: You promised to prevent union busters like Amazon from receiving lucrative contracts from the federal government. Please keep that promise.

United States Senator for Vermont

(202) 224-5141