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Biden throws support behind Amazon warehouse workers' vote in Alabama amid historic push to unionize

Amazon labor showdown in Alabama
Historic labor showdown at Alabama Amazon warehouse as employees signal interest in unionizing 03:42

A historic labor showdown taking place between workers in Alabama and retail giant Amazon has drawn the attention of President Joe Biden.

Thousands of workers at an Amazon warehouse outside of Birmingham are voting on whether to form the company's first labor union in the U.S. Amazon is pushing employees to vote no.

In an unprecedented video message, the president urged management to back off and let workers decide. 

"The choice to join a union is up to the workers, full stop," Mr. Biden said in the two-minute video.

Many Democrats are pro-union, but as CBS News' Nancy Cordes reports, what made Mr. Biden's video so surprising was that he did it to draw attention to the union fight. 

Singling out the state by name, Mr. Biden told Americans, "Workers in Alabama and all across America are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace."

The Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama employs about 6,000 employees who are voting on whether to unionize — a bitter battle playing out at a time when the company is hiring thousands of workers every month.

"Amazon doesn't treat their employees like people. We're treated like we're robots," said warehouse employee Jennifer Bates.

Workers like Bates are constantly getting texts from Amazon, warning that union dues could leave them with less money than they already have. 

Anti-union flyers are even posted inside warehouse bathroom stalls. 

"There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda," the president said in his address. 

Amazon did not respond to CBS News' request for comment, but in a previous statement to Reuters it said: "We don't believe the union [RWDSU] represents the majority of our employees' views. Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available."

However, more than 2,000 workers have indicated that they were interested in joining a union — triggering the historic vote.

The White House insists the president was simply showing support for all unions, but union officials say Mr. Biden's message was clear.

"For the workers at the warehouse in Alabama, there is no question that President Biden was speaking to them," said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

He continued, "The importance of the video is that it's telling workers that no matter how much your employer is trying to intimidate you, no matter how powerful your employer may be, the President of the United States has your back."

Presidents traditionally take pains not to wade into union disputes, but Mr. Biden campaigned on a very different platform. 

As he said in November 2020, days after winning the election, "I made it clear to the corporate leaders — I said, 'I want you to know I'm a union guy.'"

President Biden's solidarity with workers comes just as his minimum wage hike is falling apart in Congress. Mr. Biden has faced backlash in recent days from the progressive wing of his party for not fighting harder for it. 

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