Senate Hearing Investigates Union-Busting Federal Contractors

May 6, 2022

Share this article

On Thursday May 5, 2022 the Senate Budget Committee, chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), held a hearing titled, “Should Taxpayer Dollars Go to Companies that Violate Labor Laws?” The hearing was held in response to the Federal Government’s virtually unchecked practice of awarding Federal Government contracts to companies that have and continue to engage in illegal, anti-union activities, such as Amazon.

During the hearing, Chairman Sanders stated that Amazon, which receives federal contracts worth billions of dollars, has spent more than $4 million, in just the last year alone on union-busting and anti-union consultants, in order to prevent its workers from organizing and unionizing their warehouses.  

Amazon has also been penalized more than $75 million for breaking various federal labor and discrimination laws, is being sued by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for violating numerous wage and discrimination laws, and currently has 59 Unfair Labor Practice (ULPs) open against them. 

This has renewed calls for the Biden administration to make good on a campaign promise to ensure that federal contracts are awarded only to employers that sign union organizing neutrality agreements, which are agreements between employers and unions where the employer agrees to not oppose a union’s right to organize the employer’s workers.

The Postal Service also awards hundreds of millions in contracts each year. The APWU has supported efforts to ensure union neutrality among postal contractors as well.

Christian Smalls, the founder and interim President of the newly-established Amazon Labor Union (ALU) was one of several panelists who testified at the hearing. Smalls spoke on behalf of workers nationwide affected by these unlawful anti-union/anti-worker activities. In March 2020, Smalls was fired for organizing a walk-out at his Staten Island, NY warehouse (JFK8) due to safety concerns related to COVID-19. Smalls reminded the committee that safeguarding union rights “is not a Left or a Right thing, it is a worker’s thing… they break the law, they get away with it… we are the ones that are suffering.”

General President Sean O’Brien of the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters addressed the committee and stated, “To put it plainly, it is wrong for our government to be giving tax payer dollars, in the form of federal contracts, to companies like Amazon. You are rewarding employers who repeatedly, knowingly, and purposely violate federal labor laws, drive down wages and standards…and create dangerous working conditions.”

Facing criticism from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that the hearing was inappropriate, Sen. Sanders said, “In a Congress dominated by corporate lobbyists and wealthy campaign contributors, the idea that we would actually hear from the working class of this country is, in fact, radical. But I make no apologies for that.”

During the hearing, several of the committee members and panelists reiterated their support for the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would introduce meaningful, enforceable penalties for companies that violate worker’s rights, expand collective bargaining rights, and close loopholes that corporations use to exploit their workers. These corporations receive large subsidies, tax breaks, and other means of corporate welfare, despite their prevalent violations of labor laws. Many of these corporations also have a competitive advantage when it comes to receiving federal contracts.

Other panelists who attended Thursday’s hearing included: Greg LeRoy, Executive Director of Good Jobs First; and Thomas Costa, Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security at the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Stay in touch with your union

Subscribe to receive important information from your union.