Bernie Sanders wants Amazon debarred from federal contracting

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks alongside Amazon labor organizer Chris Smalls at an April 24, 2022 rally in Staten Island, N.Y. on the eve of a union election at an Amazon facility.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks alongside Amazon labor organizer Chris Smalls at an April 24, 2022 rally in Staten Island, N.Y. on the eve of a union election at an Amazon facility. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

The Vermont lawmaker cites the company's anti-union activity in a letter urging President Biden to eliminate the e-commerce and cloud behemoth from federal contracts.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is calling on President Joe Biden to ban companies that conduct illegal anti-union activity from receiving federal contracts amid controversy over Amazon's reported efforts to thwart union activity across its U.S. workforce. 

The Vermont senator sent a letter urging Biden to fulfill his campaign promise of implementing a "multi-year federal debarment for all employers who illegally oppose unions," while calling out Amazon over allegations that the company "forced workers to attend closed-door anti-union meetings and discriminated against pro-union workers."

The letter was first reported by Politico.

Sanders, who heads the Senate Budget Committee, also announced a hearing scheduled for next week focusing on Amazon's anti-union efforts, as well as other companies which receive federal contracts despite working against organizing initiatives.

"Mr. President: It is abundantly clear that time and time again Amazon has engaged in illegal anti-union activity," the senator wrote. "Amazon may be a large and profitable corporation, it may be owned by one of the wealthiest people in America, but it cannot be allowed to continue to violate the law and the rights of its employees."

He added: "The time has come to tell Amazon that if it wants another federal contract, it must obey the law."

Amazon has faced three high profile union elections at its facilities in recent weeks, including one in Alabama and two in New York City's Staten Island borough. Organizers have claimed victory in one NYC election and votes are being tallied in the second.

Amazon's federal contracting profile is enormous. Amazon Web Services is one of the leading suppliers of cloud computing services to the federal government. The National Security Agency recently reawarded a $10 billion cloud computing contract to AWS. Additionally, Amazon is a provider of e-commerce services to the federal government under a micropurchase pilot program managed by the General Services Administration.

The focus on suspending and debarring companies who violate labor laws from receiving federal contracts is laudable, said Stan Soloway, president and CEO of Celero Strategies and formerly a senior defense official and head of the Professional Services Council. However, he also noted in an interview with FCW that several agencies have proposed rules that try—and fail —to address the issue. 

Previous efforts to regulate federal contractors over violations of labor laws, including a recently proposed rule from the Department of Agriculture, require companies competing for contracts to list every violation throughout their history in their bids. 

Some of the rules also fail to place the authority in the hands of suspension and debarment officers, who are trained to make decisions surrounding complex legal issues, instead tasking contracting officers with deciding which companies are banned for any violations they may have received over the years, according Soloway. 

"That just creates a whole dynamic that can spin out of control very quickly," he said, "even though the intent is a good one."

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