Robert Reich: Jeff Bezos And Elon Musk Vs. American Workers – OpEd

I never believed Jeff Bezos, the second-richest person in America (worth an estimated $114 billion), and Elon Musk, the richest (at $180 billion), would brazenly use their wealth and power to try to eliminate labor unions and thereby suppress the wages of American workers even further.

In my naivete, I assumed they wouldn’t reveal themselves as no better (and in many ways worse) than the robber barons of the first Gilded Age, whose riches were unrivaled and who fought with all their might against labor unions. 

It’s not that Bezos’s Amazon has exactly hidden its objective. The company has fought off every attempt to organize its workers — holding anti-union meetings, targeting union supporters, challenging union elections, and firing workers who tried to organize. 

But in a legal filing last Thursday, Amazon went even further. It argued that the National Labor Relations Board, which supervises and enforces labor law, is unconstitutional because it mixes judicial and executive functions. 

Jeff Bezos’s view (I’m assuming Amazon’s filing reflects his view) is the same as that of retrograde Elon Musk, whose SpaceX made an almost identical argument in a lawsuit last month. 

The NLRB is the agency that enforces the National Labor Relations Act — the 1935 Act that legitimized labor unions.

Bezos and Musk’s argument was rejected by the Supreme Court 86 years ago in NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. 

In that case, the NLRB found that the giant steel corporation Jones & Laughlin had violated the National Labor Relations Act by firing workers for trying to organize a union. The board ordered the corporation to reinstate them, pay them back wages, and refrain from any further actions to discourage workers from exercising their rights under the Act. 

In an opinion by Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, the Supreme Court upheld the NLRB’s order, holding that Congress acted within its constitutional authority to pass the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, including the National Labor Relations Board to enforce it. 

But modern-day robber barons Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk want the Supreme Court to reverse its 1937 ruling and return America to a time before workers had the right to form unions. 

Both of these tycoons hate unions. Both have illegally fired workers for trying to organize them. Bezos’s Amazon — having had one of its warehouses vote to unionize — is actively patrolling its workplaces against any signs of unionizing activity. Musk’s Tesla is the target of organizing efforts by the UAW and a number of European unions. 

Evidently, it’s not enough for Bezos and Musk to amass more wealth than any two people on the planet. Not enough for them to monopolize their respective industries (Amazon is now being sued by the Federal Trade Commission, Musk’s SpaceX and his X platform are also monopolies). Not enough for them to fight their workers who want better pay and safer working conditions. Not enough for them to wage a war on the freedom of workers to join labor unions. 

No, they want even more wealth and covet even more of the power — and don’t want to share any of it with their workers, or any other American workers.

Evidently, they believe that today’s Supreme Court — packed with right-wing justices who have few scruples about reversing long-held judicial precedents or even taking money from wealthy people with a financial interest in how they rule — will find their argument compelling. 

I hope they’re wrong.

This article was published at Robert Reich’s Substack