PREPARED REMARKS: Chairman Sanders Opening Statement at Hearing on Amazon and Ending Federal Contracts to Companies Engaged in Illegal Anti-Union Activities

WASHINGTON, May 5 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Thursday delivered an opening statement at the committee’s hearing titled “Should Taxpayer Dollars Go to Companies that Violate Labor Laws?”

The hearing is livestreamed on the Budget Committee’s website and Sanders’ social media pages.

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

Let me thank all of our witnesses for being with us this morning.

Let me thank Ranking Member Graham for his cooperation. 

Today, we are going to discuss a very important issue that gets very little attention in the corporate media or in the halls of Congress.

And that is that at a time when the middle class continues to shrink, when half our people live paycheck to paycheck, and when the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider and wider, there are millions of workers who are interested in joining unions so that they can negotiate for decent wages, benefits and good working conditions. 

And yet, at exactly the time that this is happening, there are hundreds of corporations in America that receive federal contracts, huge subsidies, special tax breaks and all kinds of corporate welfare despite the fact that these same companies have engaged in widespread illegal behavior – including massive violations of labor laws.

And so the question that we are asking today is a very simple one: Should federal taxpayer dollars go to companies that violate labor laws and illegally prevent workers from exercise their constitutional right to form a union?

While corporations engaging in illegal activity against union organizing is widespread, this morning we are going to focus on one company, Amazon, who as we speak, is engaged in massive anti-union activity.

As we all know, last month, Amazon workers in Staten Island voted to form the first union at an Amazon warehouse in the United States.  This followed a union organizing attempt at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama – and I welcome some of those workers who are with us today.

From the very beginning of the union organizing efforts until today, Amazon has done everything possible, legal and illegal, to defeat the union.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Amazon’s “flagrant disregard” of the law infringed on workers’ legal rights to a free and fair union election in Bessemer, Alabama ruling that Amazon’s behavior was “dangerous and improper.”

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

Amazon is currently being sued by the NLRB to reinstate a worker who was illegally fired for organizing a union.  

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

And that’s not all. Amazon has already been penalized more than $75 million for breaking federal discrimination and labor laws.

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.  Is this really a business model that should be rewarded

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. 

Further, 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.

So, today, my question to Jeff Bezos, the second wealthiest person in America, is simple: You are now worth $150 billion.  You became $45 billion richer during the pandemic.  You have enough money to buy a $500 million yacht, a $175 million estate in Beverly Hills, and a $23 million mansion right here in Washington, DC with 25 bathrooms.

Why are you doing everything in your power, including breaking the law, to deny Amazon workers the right to join a union so that they can negotiate for better wages, better benefits and better working conditions?

And the answer is not that complicated.  What Mr. Bezos understands is that union workers in America earn about 20% more, on average, than non-union workers.

Mr. Bezos understands that 79% of union workers have a defined benefit pension compared to just 17% of non-union workers. 

Mr. Bezos understands that union workers are half as likely to be victims of health and safety violations compared to non-union workers.

And that is why Amazon has spent $4.3 million last year on union busting consultants and lawyers.

That is why Amazon is forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings. 

And that is why Amazon has fired workers for “the crime” of being pro-union.

Well my message to Mr. Bezos is this: Enough with the intimidation. Enough with the harassment.  Enough with the coercion.  Enough with the illegal behavior. 

Start treating your workers with the respect and the dignity that they deserve.  Give your workers a seat at the bargaining table.  Give all of your workers the freedom to join a union.

During the presidential campaign then-candidate 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 renewing my request to President Biden to fulfill that promise.

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 words and know him to be sincere on this issue. 

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

Taxpayer dollars should not go to companies like Amazon 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.