Teamsters Announce National Plan to Organize Amazon
The union plans to take a militant approach to organizing the e-commerce giant
Just a few decades ago, in the heyday of the Teamsters and Jimmy Hoffa, almost no cargo or freight could travel through the United States without being touched by a Teamster. Under their National Master Freight Contract, over 450,000 over the road and local cartage drivers had standardized benefits, pay, and working conditions. Now the Teamsters are taking a similar national approach to organize the country’s second-largest employer, Amazon.
At the Teamsters convention, which is being held virtually this week, the union will take up a resolution “that unionizing and building worker power at Amazon is the top priority moving forward.” The memo, obtained by Motherboard, was released on Prime Day which is one of the biggest shopping days of the year for Amazon.
In a video that will be played on Tuesday at the convention, Teamster’s National Amazon Director Randy Korgan will tell the members "The Teamsters will build the types of worker and community power necessary to take on one of the most powerful corporations in the world and win." Delegates from almost 500 Teamsters locals from around the country will be at the virtual convention and will vote to approve the organizing plan on Thursday. The vote is expected to overwhelmingly pass.
According to the resolution, the Teamsters will create a special Amazon Division, specifically to aid Amazon workers in organizing and defending standards in the logistics industry. The resolution also calls for the organizing effort to be fully funded by the union.
Amazon has been virulently anti-union since its founding in 1994. This has kept unions out of the company in the United States and has scared away many organizing efforts before they could even file for a union election. However, every organizing effort has been at a single warehouse, allowing the company to spend its considerable wealth on one single target. This was seen during the Bessemer, Alabama organizing drive when the company pulled out all of the stops to prevent the union from winning, even potentially violating the law.
Contrary to the traditional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election process, the Teamsters plan to focus on a series of pressure campaigns involving work stoppages, petitions, and other collective action to push Amazon to recognize a union and bargain over working conditions. This is similar to how the union first organized workers in the early twentieth century by using shop floor strikes, city-wide strikes, and other mass collective action in the streets.
“As Teamsters, we have been building power in the logistics industry since before meaningful labor law was enacted in this country” Korgan recently wrote in an op-ed for Salon. “We fought for workers' rights to organize and build power any way we could, including shop floor strikes, city-wide strikes and actions in the streets. Building genuine worker power at Amazon will take shop-floor militancy by Amazon workers and solidarity from warehousing and delivery Teamsters.”
The union is calling the organizing effort the Amazon Project and it will include six main components. According to the convention video, these components will be educating and engaging its current union members, organizing Amazon workers, engaging the public, antitrust enforcement, industry pressure, and global solidarity.
The Teamsters say that over the last few years various departments and locals within the union have been tracking Amazon’s growth and impact on the industry and have been speaking with thousands of workers to figure out what the best strategy is for organizing workers at the company. They will use this knowledge to educate members in locals and joint councils around the country about what will work for organizing local workers and how Teamsters can engage these workers. Their goal is to get Teamsters who live in the same communities or worship at the same faith centers to talk to Amazon workers about the importance and benefit of joining a union.
"I have a son who worked at Amazon and a cousin who works at Amazon. I really see Amazon how they're in a position where your hands are tied and you have management not treating you fairly and you’re not getting your fair share of the pie," said Donnell Jefferson, a forklift operator at TForce Logistics in Memphis, Tennessee and a Teamsters union member.
Jefferson helped organize his worksite in 2008, gaining a $4 raise. He told Motherboard he joined the volunteer organizer program to help other workers organize and gain these same benefits.
"My young cousin [who works at Amazon] always calls me asking for a loan," he said. "I don't mind but she shouldn’t be in a position where she has to live with her mom and borrow money. They ought to be able to get better wages and healthcare and take care of their family. I struggled before I unionized but it's changed my life."
While the union wouldn’t say how much money they are spending on the project, they have said that the International Union, locals, and joint councils have “committed tremendous resources to this.”
For the Teamsters and their members, organizing Amazon is about more than just helping these workers, it is also about protecting the industries they work in. As Amazon has grown, they have launched their own delivery fleet. While drivers at UPS, the nation’s largest private union employer, average around $88,000 a year (or about $42.30 an hour before benefits), Amazon drivers are paid between $15 and $16 an hour. Their wages are more comparable to Walmart or Target than UPS. This allows Amazon to ship products at a lower cost squeezing union shipping companies like UPS. Amazon drivers also have significantly higher quotas, more weekend work and holiday shifts, unpredictable schedules, and a greater reliance on temps and contractors. Amazon has also talked about creating new ways to eliminate the need for drivers by using drones to deliver packages and increasing the use of robots in warehouses. If Amazon continues on this path unchecked, other companies will be forced to adopt some of these advances to stay competitive, which will lead to more Teamsters being laid off in favor of a drone. The Teamsters already say that their members are feeling the squeeze from Amazon as UPS looks to increase quotas to stay competitive.
“Many of our members have already experienced the pressure of longer hours and more work at their own jobs because of how Amazon is changing their industries, said Korgan. “Some of our members have worked at Amazon previously or have friends and family who work there. We are training our members to support Amazon workers as they organize to build power across their company. The response has been amazing, but our union needs to be dedicated to this project for the long haul if we want to keep middle-class jobs in our core industries.”