David Sirota Matthew Cunningham-Cook Worker's Rights

Amazon Gets Huge Contract Despite Biden’s Union Pledge

The president promised to halt federal contracts to union busters — but the deal was just re-awarded to Amazon while the company was crushing a union drive.
President Joe Biden meets with Amazon Labor Union leader Chris Smalls on May 5th. The White House.

By Matthew Cunningham-Cook and David Sirota / The Lever

The Biden administration has re-awarded a massive $10 billion federal contract to Amazon, even as the president is facing mounting pressure to fulfill his promise to halt such contracts to companies that refuse to remain neutral in union elections. The contract decision came as Amazon responded to its workers’ first successful union drive by busting the organizing drive that followed.

At issue is Biden’s 2020 promise to “ensure federal contracts only go to employers who sign neutrality agreements committing not to run anti-union campaigns.”

Amid revelations of Amazon’s aggressive efforts to shut down a union drive among its workers, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind.-Vt.) last month sent a letter to Biden “asking you to fulfill that promise… to make sure that federal dollars do not flow into the hands of unscrupulous employers who engage in union-busting, participate in wage theft, or violate labor law.”

A day later, Nextgov reported that Biden’s National Security Agency (NSA) ratified a $10 billion cloud computing contract for Amazon, which hired the brother of Biden’s top aide as a lobbyist days after the 2020 presidential election. The contract for the company’s web services division is codenamed “Wild and Stormy,” and is distinct from another massive Pentagon cloud contract on which Amazon is also currently bidding.

A few days after Amazon received the NSA contract, the Amazon Labor Union lost its second union election bid by a 2-to-1 margin at another Staten Island warehouse, after Amazon mounted a furious campaign to halt the organizing drive.

In effect, while Amazon was doubling down on its union busting, the Biden administration was delivering a massive federal contract to the company, signaling to Amazon executives that he is so far not interested in fulfilling his pledge to use the government’s purchasing power to be “the most pro-union president.”

Meanwhile in Congress, lawmakers are advancing legislation that could give Amazon new tax breaks and give $10 billion to company founder Jeff Bezos’s space company. Most Democratic senators also voted Wednesday to reject a measure from Sanders demanding that tech companies that receive government subsidies remain neutral in union elections.

Doubling Down On A Disputed Contract

Amazon first received the NSA contract from the Biden administration last summer, months after Biden pledged to make such deals contingent on union neutrality. But the contract was soon challenged by Microsoft, which alleged that its own competing proposal had not been properly evaluated.

In the interim, Biden could have signed an executive order to rescind such contracts for employers that do not remain neutral in union elections — but he has declined to do so.

Now, his administration has gone a step further, ratifying the lucrative contract even as Amazon has been making international headlines trying to stop union drives at the company, as well as fielding allegations that it has been violating labor law in the process.

The details of Amazon’s contract — and the dispute — will remain classified, due to an exemption in public records laws for national security.

A Refusal To Wield Enormous Purchasing Power

Biden’s contract pledge underscored how much power federal, state, and local governments have in creating fair conditions for union elections. Major corporations rely on those governments for contracts and subsidies, giving public officials the power to make that money contingent on companies treating workers fairly.

The Amazon Web Services deal is a case in point. That division, which oversees its government contracting, fuels the company’s overall profits. Indeed, the company received double the amount of operating income from the division— $18.53 billion — as from the rest of its sprawling North American operations. If Biden — and state governments — predicate their contracts on Amazon remaining neutral in union elections, it would force the company to choose between union busting and massive profits.

That was the core of Biden’s 2020 campaign pledge.

“Today, I am renewing my request to President Biden to fulfill that promise,” Sanders said Thursday at a Senate hearing. “In my view, however, the time for talk is over. The time for action is now. Taxpayer dollars should not go to companies like Amazon who repeatedly break the law. No government — not the federal government, not the state government, and not the city government — should be handing out corporate welfare to union busters and labor law violators.”

Also on Thursday, Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls reportedthat during a White House visit, Biden had told him that Smalls had “gotten [Biden] in trouble.” 

Biden was likely referring to his statement in April to a union group where he said “Amazon, here we come” — a statement that Press Secretary Jen Psaki walked back almost immediately.

Matthew Cunningham-Cook

Matthew Cunningham-Cook is a researcher and writer focusing on capital markets, health care and retirement policy.

David Sirota

David Sirota is the founder/editor in chief of The Lever, Oscar nominated for DON’T LOOK UP, and was Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign speechwriter in 2020.

9 comments

  1. The people’s party, recruiting working class voters with false pledges because it’s running a protection racket for Big Bizzness.

    Note the contract(s), both the one with U$, Inc.’s national security front and the one out on us. The technofascist corporate state keeps rolling out the infrastructure for a prison planet, where humanity will have disappeared into the cloud and been replaced by these psychopaths’ synthetic slaves. Talk about the mother of all class wars on labor!

    Unfortunately, there’s not much union for fighting this war, whether from the junior partners of Big Bizz or among subject populations directed into all manner of divide-and-rule civil war. Besides, that war – between who serves and who eats – got forgotten long ago, when the DP and AFL-CIO new deal cracked down on working class militancy, and middle class cooptation by the Amerikan dream machine denied the nightmares of empire on both domestic and foreign fronts under cover of a classless society.

  2. It has been part of the agenda of the billionaire class for a while now for the government to contract to private companies what easily could and should be done in house. That the NSA needs Amazon’s computing power is a joke but if the NSA censored and invaded privacy it would be against the Constitution for Amazon it is just business with no legal recourse. Remember it was Amazon that first went after WikiLeaks in 2010 by kicking it off its hosting services. PayPal, Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Western Union followed. If the government had a hosting service available to the public, for it to kick off WikiLeaks would be government censorship and a violation of the First Amendment. This smacks of Fascism 2.0.

  3. Well, well,well – a story of 3 holes in the ground …
    A contract with the NSA, eh, whose terms can’t be revealed because of “national security” reasons – so we are left to surmise … What could the NSA want from Amazon – a place to store its family photos? How about all the personal data that Amazon collects from us, meta and all? What other “cloud service” has anywhere near as much of it as Amazon – that’s where the “competition” was for the service – who has the most data ….

    So the “nation” is secure, but it’s inhabitants are anything but …
    Why anyone still shops with Amazon is beyond me – how naked are we willing to strip ourselves to get 2nd day delivery …

  4. Faux Democrats
    Biden
    Bill & Hillary
    and sadly Barack too
    and all their financiers

    1. To Horatio,
      I think at this point, we need to recognize/acknowledge that, for all intents and purposes, those folks, are, in fact, the “real” Democrats, the ones who define and chart the direction of the DP – the “New Democrats”, in control of the Party.

      If you don’t like where this party is and is going – find another Party. The time of mourning for a moribund party is over – find a new one …

    2. Faux Democrats? They are very real Democrats. They’re part of the Leadership, along with Pelosi. They ARE the Party. It’s real late in the day to be pretending that the Dem Party is anything other than what this article plainly shows them to be.

  5. When will readers wake up and see through this nonsense by Sirota and Cook, two Democratic apparatchiks still putting their faith in their two timing turncoat Sanders? Did Sirota and Cook think Biden would do anything different? Do they think Sanders letters and speeches mean anything other than the obfuscating and feckless stand they are meant to be? Do they not see that Smalls, going to meet Biden, Sean O”Brien ( the Teamster’s President ), and Sara Nelson ( the Flight Attendant’s union President ) is cozying up to high six figure salaried thuggish bureaucrats who see the ALU as just more suckers to fleece and sell out to the companies they are suppose to be protecting workers from? Sirota and Cook fail to address the union being voted down twice at the Bessemer, Alabama plant by the workers themselves, not the Amazon managerial class. Do they not see that maybe the workers are smart enough to understand that they will get nothing from their union membership, other than poorer, as they are swallowed up into the bureaucratic machine of the RWDSU? Do they not think that these workers have family members and friends who belong to unions and have warned them not to vote for unionization? All one needs to do is look around the US at how the unions time and time again have sold out their ” brothers and sisters ” turning places like Volvo Trucks, Dana, John Deere, Nabisco, Kaiser Permanente, schools, hospitals, and auto plants across the nation into sweat shops.
    Sirota and Cook skulls are thick. They scratch their craniums at Biden, and the previous war criminal Dem, Obama, continually crushing the working class and siding with his puppet masters. They are true believers in the reformation of the Democratic Party. They will continue to scratch their heads, and make us scratch ours, till. we’re all bleeding.

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