Amazon union workers join forces with Teamsters

After years of organizing Amazon workers and pressuring the company to bargain wages and working conditions, two major unions are teaming up to challenge the online retailer.

The partnership was made permanent by voting that concluded Monday after members of the Amazon Labor Union, the only union formally representing Amazon warehouse workers in the United States, voted overwhelmingly to affiliate with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters , which has 1.3 million members. The vote was overseen by Amazon's union.

The ALU scored a surprise victory in a Staten Island warehouse election in 2022. But it has yet to begin bargaining with Amazon, which continues to dispute the election results. Leaders of both unions said the affiliation agreement would put them in a better position to challenge Amazon and provide the ALU with more money and staff support.

“The Teamsters and the ALU will fight fearlessly to give Amazon workers the good jobs and safe working conditions they deserve in a union contract,” Sean O'Brien, president of the Teamsters, said in a statement Tuesday.

Amazon declined to comment on the affiliation.

The Teamsters are stepping up their efforts to organize Amazon workers nationwide. The union voted to create an Amazon division in 2021, and Mr. O'Brien was elected that year partly on the platform of making inroads into the company.

The Teamsters told the ALU that they had committed $8 million to support organizing at Amazon, according to Christian Smalls, the president of the ALU, and that the larger union was ready to leverage its more than $300 million in strike and defense funds to aid in the effort. The Teamsters did not comment on their budget for organizing on Amazon.

The Teamsters also recently reached an affiliation agreement with workers organizing at Amazon's largest air hub in the United States, a Kentucky facility known as KCVG. Experts said KCVG's unionization could give workers substantial leverage because Amazon relies heavily on the hub to meet its one- and two-day shipping goals.

David Levin, personnel director of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a reform group within the union that helped mobilize United Parcel Service workers during last year's successful bargaining campaign, said many Teamsters members who had been involved in pressuring UPS are now helping Amazon workers organize.

“Labor leaders and activists are exiting the UPS bargaining campaign and engaging in Amazon volunteer organizing committees,” Levin said.

Efforts to unionize Amazon over the past decade have been scattered across a variety of established unions and independent worker groups. Some experts argue that, given the company's size and long-standing opposition to unions, establishing a significant union presence will require some consolidation of the organization.

“We've had these different efforts, all these different pockets, that have produced some important advances,” said Barry Eidlin, a sociologist at McGill University in Montreal who studies the work. “But they also revealed the limits of a widespread approach.”

The affiliation agreement with the Teamsters, a copy of which was shared with the New York Times, states that the ALU will have the exclusive right within the Teamsters to organize additional Amazon warehouse workers in New York City and promises to help the new place in organization, research, communication and legal representation.

It also gives the ALU a role in the Teamsters' broader organization of Amazon, saying that at least three members of the local will take part in the “executive planning and strategic discussions” of the Teamsters' Amazon division, and that the local will “provide leadership his skills to assist in the organization of other Amazon facilities” across the country.

The ALU energized the labor movement with its victory in 2022, but soon faced major challenges. He lost a union election at a warehouse near Staten Island a few weeks later and another election at a warehouse near Albany, New York, that fall.

The union began to fracture after the second loss, with several ALU organizers raising concerns that union leaders had too much power and were not accountable to members. Mr Smalls said the union was worker-led.

A dissident ALU group critical of Mr Smalls filed a lawsuit in 2023 seeking to force a leadership election. The two sides announced a deal in January, and the election is scheduled for the summer, and will be overseen by an observer approved by a federal court. Smalls is not a candidate, while the dissident group, the ALU Democratic Reform Caucus, is fielding candidates for all four leadership positions. The list is led by Connor Spence, one of the founders of ALU.

Meanwhile, ALU faced financial difficulties and ended last year with $33,000 in assets and $81,000 in liabilities, according to federal documents.

In May, both ALU factions visited Teamsters headquarters in Washington, where Teamsters officials approached them with the idea of ​​affiliating, Smalls said.

He said the Teamsters offered to make their resources available to Amazon workers — including strike pay — while largely preserving the independence of Amazon's union. He signed the affiliation agreement at the beginning of June.

The signing surprised the reform caucus, which had told the Teamsters that ALU members would need more time to deliberate. But the caucus ultimately decided to support the affiliation as long as ALU members ratified it, saying it would help “transform the beachhead we gained on Staten Island into a militant, autonomous local.”

Spence, the reform caucus candidate for ALU president, said that if his group won the leadership election on Staten Island, he would put together a plan to take on Amazon in consultation with workers and present the plan to the Teamsters in hopes to secure the necessary resources.

Amazon fired Spence last fall for what it said were violations of its policy governing off-duty access to its facilities. She is contesting the firing in a case that is before an administrative law judge at the National Labor Relations Board.

Mr Spence and another fired Amazon worker were removed by police last week after appearing outside the warehouse trying to persuade workers to ratify the affiliation agreement. The officers handcuffed the two former workers, took them to a station and gave them tickets requiring them to appear in court.

Lisa Levandowski, an Amazon spokeswoman, said the company called police because a group, mostly Teamsters, was rioting outside the warehouse and had rejected Amazon's request to leave. She said that after the police arrived, everyone except Mr Spence and his former colleague had left. (Employees are authorized to distribute materials outside the building during non-working hours.)

Mr Spence said he had appeared outside the building many times for organizational purposes in recent weeks without encountering police.

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