Fighting our biggest target yet — Amazon

The COVID-19 pandemic led to an explosion in online shopping. Teamsters in many industries are working harder than ever. UPS, our largest employer, hired 50,000 Teamsters since the pandemic began. And with the holidays coming up, UPS just announced plans to hire 100,000 more seasonal workers.

Amazon is UPS’ largest customer. Amazon has also rapidly become the second largest employer in the U.S. The company hired 500,000 people last year and just announced plans to hire another 125,000 warehouse workers and 50,000 delivery drivers by the end of the year.

So UPS and Amazon are moving more packages than ever before, right? And both companies are hiring like crazy, right?

The big differences between UPS & Amazon

That’s where the similarities end. Amazon’s starting pay is $15-18/hour. Amazon workers have no pension. Their medical, dental, and vision plans carry deductibles. And for some Amazon workers, it’s even worse than that.

We all see the drivers in Amazon cargo vans with Amazon uniforms. Guess what? Those drivers are not Amazon employees. Instead, those 150,000 drivers work for 2,500 different “Delivery Service Provider” (“DSP”) companies that Amazon contracts with to move their packages. 

Although the DSP drivers don’t work directly for Amazon, Amazon controls everything they do, from the length of their hair and nails to the pace of their deliveries. Inward and outward drive cams and multiple software programs monitor and surveil every movement the drivers make. If they fail to meet the standards, they get fired. What can you do when you are fired by a computer algorithm? Unlike Teamsters, the drivers have no grievance procedure or union representation; it’s their word against the computer.

And what if those drivers wanted to join the Teamsters? Amazon does not allow a DSP to hire more than 100 workers. Imagine how hard it would be for small groups of workers to organize at thousands of small companies across the U.S.! And what do you think would happen if the workers at one of those companies organized? Amazon would probably cancel their contract.  

Behind the DSP drivers is a huge workforce of Amazon Flex drivers, delivering packages from their own cars. They are the Uber for package delivery. They are hired as “independent contractors” and get paid by “block of time,” not by the hour. They have no benefits and no legal right to join together in a union because they are classified as small businesses under the law. Many report making less than minimum wage after adding up their gas, insurance, and other car expenses.

In Amazon warehouses, workers are subject to the same sort of computer-based surveillance and production standards that drivers face. During COVID 19, Amazon warehouses became poster children for the dangers of warehouse work in the U.S. Reports of injuries, accidents, and COVID outbreaks are all over the news.

The bottom line is Amazon warehouse workers and drivers describe long hours, low pay, skipped meals and bathroom breaks, grueling work speeds and standards, and the constant fear of being fired.

Why should Teamsters care about that?  After all, UPS has more Amazon work than we can handle, right?  

Teamsters should care because Amazon is working to build its own logistics empire. Amazon not only intends to stop working with UPS, it plans to compete with UPS for other customers’ business. How can we compete with $15 or even $20/hr with nowhere near the same benefits package? And what if we have to keep pace with Amazon’s work speed rules just to keep up?  

And for Teamsters who don’t work at UPS, what happens to our union’s resources and power when we start losing members and jobs at our largest employer? What do we do the next time someone comes after our jobs, our pensions, and our healthcare?  Will we have the people-power and money to fight?

So what are we doing about it?

The Teamster organizing plan

First, Joint Council 7 is holding its first training for UPS members from the Bay Area locals in September, starting to build the army we’ll need to fight Amazon. 

Second, we are putting together a program of action at the local, state, and federal levels. We will be knocking on doors from local neighborhoods to the halls of Congress. 

At the local level, we are fighting to stop Amazon from opening in San Francisco, Hayward, Gilroy, and Richmond. More of these fights are coming, and Teamster members will be at the front. We are working with other labor unions, community, environmental, and faith-based organizations. And we are getting strong support from city council members and county supervisors everywhere we go.

At the state level, we just passed AB 701, the first bill in the nation to address Amazon’s ruthless warehouse work speed quotas. This bill ensures that workers can take needed breaks and beefs up safety compliance.

On the federal level, we are working with politicians to strengthen anti-trust and labor laws that were designed to stop corporations from having too much power. What happens when a corporation gets so big that it can drive down the wages and working conditions for an entire industry?  It’s time to update the laws to fix that problem, and Amazon is a prime example of why we need to do that.

Finally, you’ve read here about the PRO Act, known by its full name as the Protecting the Right To Organize Act. This legislation would strengthen workers’ hands against corporations like Amazon, outlawing misclassification of drivers as “independent contractors” instead of employees, guaranteeing contracts through mandatory first contract arbitration, and banning the permanent replacement of striking workers. This law passed in the House but will be a tough sell in the Senate.

All of these are good reminders about why it’s important for Teamsters to be involved in politics. That means voting, of course. Our union endorses politicians who stand with us on key issues like Amazon, and they need our votes. It also means making voluntary DRIVE contributions through our paychecks, because right now the politicians we support need our money to get elected, too.

Expect to read more about Amazon in future newspapers. Reach out to your shop steward and business agent if you want to get involved!

Trish Suzuki Blinstrub, Political Director