WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) took to the Senate floor to support Amazon workers seeking to freely exercise their right to organize with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), and pushed the company to take this opportunity to recognize the true value of its workers to the company’s success. Brown’s speech comes as an election began today in Bessemer, Alabama, where Amazon warehouse workers will vote to form a union that will represent full and part-time employees. Brown led his colleagues in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and his successor, Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy last week, urging Amazon to support its workers in their efforts to form a union.

The senator has long been pushing Amazon to do right by its workers, including pushing the company to release comprehensive data on COVID-19 infection rates among their workers, urging the company to stop the online surveilling of its workers in order to thwart any effort to collectively organize, and demanding answers from Amazon as work-related injuries at the company’s facilities continued to rise over the holidays last year.

Brown also recently joined his colleagues in reintroducing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, comprehensive labor legislation to protect workers’ right to stand together and bargain for fairer wages, better benefits, and safer workplaces. Unions are critical to increasing wages and addressing growing income inequality—with studies showing that union members earn on average 19 percent more than those with similar education, occupation, and experience in a non-union workplace.  

Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery can be found below:

Today, Amazon workers in Alabama will begin receiving ballots that will give them a real voice in their workplace, by joining a union.

Amazon would not be the massively successful company that it is, and Jeff Bezos wouldn’t be a multibillionaire, without the hard work and dedication of its hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers.

They have put in long hours and risked their own health during this pandemic to meet increased demand. As of October 20,000 Amazon workers had contracted COVID-19 – and we know those numbers would be even higher now.

Because of their hard work Amazon’s profits have soared by more than 70 percent.

The company’s workers deserve to share in the success that they made possible.

Amazon claims to recognize the value of its workers. They call their workers, quote, “heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get critical items they need.”

If the company truly believes that, Amazon needs to back up its words with action.

That means letting these workers organize. It means stopping the corporate union-busting tactics that they’ve deployed against these workers.

Amazon is one of the most powerful corporations in the world, and they’ve unleashed all of that power to fight their own workers, who are only asking for a voice on the job.

They’ve harassed employees with anti-union propaganda – misleading text messages, websites, fliers.

One Washington Post headline really said it all: “Amazon’s anti-union blitz stalks Alabama warehouse workers everywhere, even the bathroom.”

Workers have reported they don’t even get enough time for bathroom breaks in the warehouse, that’s how intense the company’s pressure is. And when they are able to use the restroom, even there, workers are hit with anti-union propaganda flyers on the stall doors.

Amazon has repeatedly tried to block mail-in voting and force workers to hold the union election in-person, putting its workers health at risk to suppress the vote.

This is all part of a pattern for Amazon.

In 2019, Amazon fired a Staten Island warehouse worker who called for unionization.

They monitor employees’ online communications. Last fall we learned the company planned to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on new software to monitor “threats” like unions.

It’s little wonder Amazon is afraid of workers getting more power – so much of their business model is built on top of exploiting workers – often Black and brown workers, and women.

Instead of employing many drivers directly, they use what they call “Amazon Flex” drivers – and just like with other “gig economy” jobs, “flex” is just corporate PR speak for denying workers their rights as full employees.

They’ve failed to provide complete data on COVID-19 spread in the workplace, so we can find out whether the company is really protecting its workers’ health.

Amazon rolled back its tiny $2-per-hour pandemic raise in June, and it announced a one-time bonus of just $300 per worker.

Yes, you heard that correctly – not $3,000, but $300, from a company that brought in $280 billion in revenue the previous year.

And we know Amazon is far from alone.

In December the Washington Post looked at the 50 biggest corporations, and found that between April and September these companies handed out more than $240 billion to their shareholders through stock buybacks and dividends.

That was all while their workers were risking their own health, often at rock-bottom wages, to make those companies profitable.

If even a global pandemic – where America’s workers have been on the front lines – if even that will not get corporations to rethink their business model that treats workers as expendable, then we have to give workers more power on the job.

That means unions. That means collective bargaining.

It’s why I joined Senator Murray and many of my colleagues last week to reintroduce the Protecting the Right to Organize Act – the PRO Act.

It’s a comprehensive overhaul of our labor laws to protect workers’ right to stand together, and bargain for fair wages, better benefits, and safer workplaces.

We know corporations have attacked and undermined worker protections for decades, and made it harder and harder for workers to even stand a chance at organizing.

And look what’s happened in our economy, as corporations have taken away workers’ power: productivity go up, corporate profits soar, executive compensation explodes…but wages stay flat, and the middle class shrinks.

Our bill would work to level the playing field, and finally give workers a fighting chance against corporate union-busting tactics, like we’re seeing right now from Amazon.

It would strengthen the punishments against companies that violate workers’ right to organize, and that retaliate against union organizers.

And it would restore fairness to an economy rigged against workers by closing loopholes that allow employers to misclassify their employees as supervisors and independent contractors.

We cannot have a strong, growing middle class without strong unions.

Union members earn an average of 19 percent more than similar workers in non-union jobs.

They have better health care, they’re better able to save for retirement, they have more predictable hours and more control over their schedules, and more economic security.

And at a time when this pandemic is revealing so many inequalities in our economy, it’s more vital than ever that we empower ALL workers.

It’s not a coincidence that so many of the workers that corporations like Amazon exploit are workers of color.

That’s true at the Alabama Amazon facility, and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union organizing in Alabama has made “respect and dignity” central to its campaign.

It comes back to the Dignity of Work. Remember what Dr. King said – he said that “no labor is really menial unless you're not getting adequate wages.”

RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said, “We see this as much as a civil rights struggle as a labor struggle.”

A union card is a ticket to a middle class life, and we fight for economic justice by making it available to ALL workers.

We just need corporations to get out of the way, and let workers organize, and take control over their careers and their futures.

When you love this country you fight for the people who make it work.

That’s what the Amazon workers in Alabama are doing, it’s what unions have done throughout our history in this country, and it’s what we can do in the Senate, by passing the PRO Act.

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