GOP Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Friday endorsed efforts to unionize an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, framing his support for the union—unusual for a member of the Republican Party, which has traditionally been a stalwart foe of organized labor—as a shot against Amazon in the emerging conservative culture war against Big Tech and “woke” corporations.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Border Security and … [+]
In a USA Today op-ed, Rubio argues Amazon has “decided to wage culture war against working-class values,” citing the company’s “anti-competitive” conduct against small businesses, its refusal to sell an anti-transgender book from a conservative author and its prohibition on non-profits labeled as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center from participating in the AmazonSmile program.
Rubio wrote Amazon’s “uniquely malicious corporate behavior” justifies a more “adversarial approach to labor relations” than he would normally support, adding that “if Amazon thinks that conservatives will automatically rally to do its bidding after proving itself to be such enthusiastic culture warriors, it is sorely mistaken.”
Rubio is the first major Republican to back the union effort, joining a cadre of progressive lawmakers and President Joe Biden, all of whom typically enjoy support from large labor unions.
A Republican coming out in favor of a union, especially in the South, is a rarity, John Logan, director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University, told Forbes, and comes at a time when Rubio is trying to recast the Republican party as pro-worker, while scoring political points for opposing Big Tech, a frequent conservative target of late.
“It is no fault of Amazon’s workers if they feel the only option available to protect themselves against bad faith is to form a union. Today it might be workplace conditions, but tomorrow it might be a requirement that the workers embrace management’s latest “woke” human resources fad,” Rubio writes.
Though Rubio’s support appears pro-worker, critics note that in the same op-ed, Rubio decries the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a Democrat-backed bill increasing the power of unions in right-to-work states. “I see this as an opportunity for him to take sides in the culture war, to say that Republicans are the party of blue collar Americans, but he doesn’t actually support legislation to genuinely help workers have a free and fair choice when they’re up against corporations with astounding power,” Logan, the San Francisco State University professor, said.
Though surprising, Rubio’s support is not totally out-of-the-blue. For years, the senator has spoken about his earliest political memory: marching the picket line with his father during a Culinary Workers Union strike in Las Vegas. “I didn’t fully grasp the issues involved then, but I knew my father and the workers at the other hotels were asking to just be treated fairly for their work,” he wrote in a 2018 Atlantic op-ed. In the past, Rubio has continually called for looser federal labor regulations. In the Atlantic op-ed, Rubio supports the idea of “voluntary, dues-paying organizations” that could receive federal charters “to administer benefits such as unemployment insurance and worker-training programs.”
The union drive in Bessemer is a watershed moment for the American labor movement. If workers opt to form a union, it would result in the first-ever unionized Amazon warehouse in the U.S. It could also set off a wave of union drives in other Amazon warehouses and at other large retailers.
Amazon is waging an all-out anti-union campaign that involves putting anti-union posters in the bathroom at the warehouse and sending out anti-union mass text messages to workers, the Washington Post reported. The company has launched an ad campaign and a dedicated website called #DoItWithoutDues, which argues that Amazon workers already have “high wages, healthcare, vision and dental benefits, as well as a safety committee and an appeals process.”
I’m a San Francisco-based reporter covering breaking news at Forbes. Follow me on Twitter @rachsandl or shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.