Vice President, Labor Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
March 29, 2021
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders reportedly weighed in on the organizing campaign at an Amazon facility that has been in the headlines in recent months. Unsurprisingly, the senator offered his support for the union hoping to represent roughly 6,000 Amazon employees working at the company’s fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, and his remarks underscored the faulty reasoning among those pushing organized labor’s agenda.
As this blog has recounted on many an occasion, labor unions have been in a steady decline since their heyday in the mid-1950s, when around 35 percent of the workforce belonged to a union—almost entirely if not completely in the private sector (as opposed to government). Fast forward to 2020, and roughly 10.8 percent of the overall workforce belongs to a union, but only 6.3 percent of the private sector. Any observer of labor policy knows that union leaders understand this decline is a serious threat to their business model, and they have been searching for myriad ways to grow their ranks.
One such way in recent years has been to target large facilities in southern states, where unions traditionally have not had much success despite their persistent efforts. On top of that is the fact that just about every state in the south has a right-to-work law prohibiting mandatory union membership to keep one’s job, and public policy in general tends to favor economic growth rather than the job-killing regulatory tendencies found in more pro-union states like California or New York.
Another reason that may help explain labor’s difficulty in garnering support is the fact that employers seeking to attract the best talent know that it behooves them to provide competitive wages and benefits. For example, as the article reporting on Sanders’ meddling notes, Amazon pays its Alabama employees a starting hourly wage of $15/hour, which happens to be the minimum wage that Sanders himself has been pushing at the federal level. The company also provides health care coverage, just as many employers do, all without union negotiations.
In addition to offering his support for the union seeking to organize Amazon’s fulfillment center, Sanders also touted the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a piece of legislation recently passed by the House of Representatives that would fundamentally alter labor relations in the United States were it to be enacted. The proposal amounts to nothing more than organized labor’s wish list of policies designed to tilt the playing field in favor of union organizers and against employers.
The PRO Act would not only effectively overrule a state like Alabama’s right-to-work statute, it would deny employers like Amazon from even having legal standing before the National Labor Relations Board in an organizing campaign such as the one it currently is in. All told, the PRO Act would rewrite labor law as it has stood for eight decades so that unions can add to their membership rolls—not to mention their coffers.
According to another news report, Amazon also has plans to expand its operations in Alabama by revitalizing a 1970s-era mall and bring hundreds of jobs to an area that apparently has seen better times. By hamstringing employers, legislation like the PRO Act would discourage that kind of economic growth at the behest of organized labor, just as policies in certain states already have done, but for a union movement desperate to mitigate its own failures, hurting the economy appears to be a price worth paying.