President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh met Thursday at the White House with several union organizers involved in successful campaigns at companies like Amazon and Starbucks.
The meeting was intended to discuss how recent organizing successes can inspire other workers to join or form a union, according to the White House.
Alex Speidel, an employee and union leader at Paizo, a Seattle-area role-playing game publisher, said management officials “were interested in how we had been successful, what things we had done to motivate people without the union. history in their families, affiliated for the first time to the union”.
A high-profile White House event focused primarily on rank-and-file union members and grassroots organizers is unusual for a president of any party. But a Harris-led labor organizing task force, which officially organized Thursday’s meeting, has met with workers outside the White House on several occasions, and rank-and-file union members have attended events at the White House under the Biden address. There have also been White House meetings with union leaders and top labor officials.
Christian Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, asked Biden to pressure Amazon leaders to recognize the union and begin collective bargaining, and Biden expressed general support in response, according to Speidel and another aide, Jaimie Caldwell, librarian at the Baltimore County Public Library in Maryland.
A White House spokeswoman said it was up to the National Labor Relations Board, an independent agency, to certify unions. She also pointed previous comments by Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, noting that President Biden is a long-time supporter “of collective bargaining, of the rights of workers to organize, and of his decision to do exactly that” in the Amazon case.
The meeting comes at a time when union organizers have won several high-profile elections, including more than 50 at Starbucks locations and the Staten Island warehouse where Mr. Smalls led a unionization effort.
In addition to union leaders and workers from Amazon, Starbucks, Paizo and the Baltimore County Public Library, workers from outdoor clothing retailer REI and animation production company Titmouse participated in the meeting.
Labor leaders often describe Biden as the most pro-worker president of his life, noting that he replaced government officials they disliked with ones more sympathetic to unions and that he undid Trump-era rules that weakened worker protections.
During a high-profile union campaign at Amazon last year, Biden warned that “there should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” and later criticized Kellogg for its plans to permanently replace striking workers during a labor dispute. Both were unusual interjections from a sitting president.