Taking Aim at Amazon and Uber, Sanders Campaign Promises Sweeping Pro-Union Legislation

Illustration for article titled Taking Aim at Amazon and Uber, Sanders Campaign Promises Sweeping Pro-Union Legislation
Photo: Alex Wong (Getty)

Bernie Sanders hasn’t won his seat in the Oval Office just yet, but, ahead of a planned speech before America’s largest union federation, the AFL-CIO, the Vermont senator’s campaign released a broad plan to bolster the country’s badly depleted union membership. Tech companies that have expressed anti-union views or that rely on gig-work labor have every reason to be worried, should he win the presidency.

(Disclosure: Gizmodo’s editorial staff are members of the Writers Guild of America, East, which is part of the AFL-CIO.)

The major tenets of Sanders’ proposed executive order, called the Workplace Democracy Plan (WDP), all aim to make joining or maintaining a union easier, with a stated goal to double union membership over the course of Sanders’ first term in office. Among the private sector, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates about 6.4 percent of workers are currently unionized.


Several points of the WDP deprive bosses of favored tactics for stalling union drives or contract ratifications by setting deadlines for when negotiations would have to begin and allow the National Labor Relations Board to certify new unions. Preventing striking workers from being fired, repealing “right to work” laws—legislation that more than half the states have passed to undermine organized labor by make paying dues optional while unions are still required to represent non-paying workers—upholding existing contracts in the event of corporate mergers, and allowing public sector workers to strike fill out the robust proposal.

What could prove to be a major thorn in the side of tech giants, which historically are ambivalent-to-hostile on unions, is Sanders’ commitment to “deny federal contracts to employers that [...] outsource jobs overseas, pay workers less than $15 an hour without benefits, refuse to remain neutral in union organizing efforts, pay executives over 150 times more than average workers, hire workers to replace striking workers, or close businesses after workers vote to unionize” In the campaign’s newsletter, Bern Notice, Amazon is specifically called out as one such firm that “could lose big” under a Sanders administration, due to anti-union training material leaked to Gizmodo last September, as well as the company’s reported history of captive-audience meetings meant to instill anti-union sentiment.

Amazon has won contracts providing cloud computing through its Amazon Web Services division to the Department of Justice, Air Force, Department of Veterans Affairs, and NASA—and is currently in the running to secure the Pentagon’s $10 billion joint enterprise defense infrastructure (JEDI) contract.

Worst still (for Silicon Valley, anyway) is, to quote the plan, that “companies will no longer be able to ruthlessly exploit workers by misclassifying them as independent contractors.” For those keeping score at home, that’s a direct attack on the so-called “gig economy,” composed to businesses like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart, which use this classification strategy to avoid providing workers on these platforms basic rights like healthcare and overtime pay while saddling them with costs like fuel and vehicle wear. Whether this is an accurate classification has been hotly debated, both in the streets by protesting gig workers themselves and in the courts. Sanders’ plan would seemingly end that conversation once and for all in favor of gig workers who would become employees—if Sanders wins and enacts his plan.


We’ve reached out to Uber, Lyft, Instacart, and DoorDash for comment and will update if we hear back.

Senior reporter. Tech + labor /// bgmwrites@gmail.com Keybase: keybase.io/bryangm Securedrop: http://gmg7jl25ony5g7ws.onion/

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pay executives over 150 times more than average workers

This one is going to hit some C-levels hard. Either bring up the average or take a massive pay cut, or give up those gub’ment contract dollars.

It’ll be VERY interesting to see how that would be calculated. Is that letting the CEO making 10M/yr in on the average, or are they going to eliminate anyone > 2 standard deviations out of the bell curve?

Are they going to close every compensation loophole to calculate the limitations?

A company like McDonalds, who employs something like 150k people in the US and has supposedly started everyone at $15/hr, couldn’t pay anyone much more than $5.5M/yr. (Assuming they pay assistant managers and managers significantly more than the grunts, say, 50 and 80k/yr respectively).

Now, I realize that McDonalds and other purely retail companies probably have no need of government contracts. Just using their workforce for perspective.

This sort of thing would potentially rail against the big ISPs, though. Look at Comcast’s CEO, who is paying himself ~46M/yr. About 170k employees as of 2 years ago. How many of them live between the $12-18/hr customer service/installer range of salary? Half? Sure, there’s going to be a range of earners all the way up to $250k/yr for their various high level engineers, but not likely to average much higher than 80-90k/yr for all engineers. If they wanted to continue to do business with the government, they’d have to drop their C-levels’ pay to somewhere around 8M.