Teamsters have a new mission: Unionize Amazon workers

The union will create a division focused on the Internet commerce behemoth.

Associated Press

NEW YORK — One of the nation’s largest union is aiming to unionize Amazon workers.

Representatives from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a union that represents 1.4 million workers, voted Thursday to make organizing Amazon workers a priority. That means it will create a division focused on Amazon and set aside money for the effort.

The Teamsters said that Amazon, the nation’s second-largest private employer, is exploiting its employees by paying them low wages, pushing them to work at fast speeds and giving them no job security. It also said the company, which has been rapidly growing its delivery business, threatens the working standards it has created for workers at other freight and delivery companies, such as UPS.

“Amazon workers are calling for safer and better working conditions and with today’s resolution we are activating the full force of our union to support them,” said Randy Korgan, the national director for Amazon at the Teamsters.

Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc. didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday.

So far, no effort to unionize Amazon has been successful in the company’s 26-year history, including a recent one at an Alabama warehouse where workers overwhelmingly voted against joining a union.

But Korgan said the Teamsters will try a different strategy. He wrote in a Salon article earlier this month that unionizing one facility at a time doesn’t work because companies like Amazon have the money and legal resources to kill unionizing efforts inside their facilities. Organizing Amazon workers, he wrote, will take “shop-floor militancy,” such as taking to city streets and holding warehouse strikes.

Amazon fought hard against the union push at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. At the time, Amazon said that it paid workers at least $15 an hour and offers them benefits, both things unions want. It hung anti-union signs throughout the warehouse and held mandatory meetings to convince workers why the union is a bad idea, according to one worker who testified at a Senate hearing. When the votes were counted in April, the majority rejected the union. The organizing there was led by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents 100,000 workers at poultry plants and retailers, such as Macy’s and H&M.

The Teamsters said it is targeting workers in Amazon’s delivery business, who drive vans or pack orders in warehouses. Amazon wants to deliver most of its packages itself and rely less on UPS and other carriers. It has opened packaging-sorting hubs at airports, built warehouses closer to shoppers’ homes and bought jets to deliver orders faster.

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