US Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders on Thursday slammed Amazon.com Inc and its chairman at a hearing on the company's labor practices as he pushed the White House to end government contracts for the retailer.
"Amazon has done everything possible - legal and illegal - to defeat union organizing efforts," Sanders said.
But the company won bipartisan support at the hearing, including from Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, a state with a large Amazon presence.
"I don't think Amazon is an organized criminal syndicate," Kaine said, adding he backs efforts to make it easier for workers to unionize. "Amazon employs a million Americans - not everybody hates their jobs at Amazon."
Sanders addressed Amazon Chairman Jeff Bezos, who had been invited to testify but did not appear.
"Given all your wealth, how much do you need? Why are you doing everything in your power, including breaking the law, to deny Amazon workers the right to join a union so that they can negotiate for better wages, better working conditions and better benefits?" Sanders asked. "How much do you need?"
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The committee heard testimony from several people including Christian Smalls, who heads the Amazon Labor Union.
"Imagine being a new hire at Amazon. Your second day, you don't even know your job assignment and the first thing they do is march them into an anti-union propaganda class," Smalls alleged.
Senator Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the panel, criticized Sanders for singling out Amazon. "This is an effort to get an outcome you want using the United States Senate as your vehicle. This is very dangerous," he said. "You can have oversight hearings how you like but you determine Amazon is a piece of crap company. That's your political bias."
Graham said companies must be allowed to express their views about unions.
He noted that Boeing Co workers have not unionized in South Carolina, where they build the 787. "The idea that Boeing can't argue the merits of a right-to-work environment for their business is ridiculous and I think patently illegal."
Sean O'Brien, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said one of the ways to hold Amazon accountable is for the government to take back contracts with companies "until they are a responsible employer."
Later in the day, US Vice President Kamala Harris will host a White House meeting with Smalls and labor leaders seeking to represent workers at Amazon, Starbucks Corp and other employers. A White House official said the meeting aims to show that the administration "is supportive of their efforts to empower workers."
Last week, Sanders urged President Joe Biden to issue an executive order cutting off federal contracts to Amazon, saying the online retailer "has become the poster child for illegal anti-union behavior while raking in billions in federal contracts."
Workers at an Amazon warehouse in New York City recently voted to form the first union at the second-largest US private employer and join the Amazon Labor Union under the leadership of Smalls, a former worker who has argued for higher pay and job security.
Amazon workers voted against unionizing a second warehouse in New York City, a ballot count on Monday showed, representing a defeat for labor organizers just weeks after they celebrated their first US win at the online retailer.