Work For Amazon? Get Ready To Hear From The Teamsters

Randy Korgan (national director of Amazon at Teamsters union) says, “We can speak to the entire country in a year.” The Teamsters union is starting to mobilize its 1.4million members in a campaign to stop the e-commerce giant.

Donnell Jefferson has grown to be used to Amazon’s blue delivery vans zooming through his Memphis neighborhood, dropping packages on his neighbors’ doorsteps multiple days per day. Over the few months back, he’s started to have conversations with drivers while they bring boxes to his front yard. His mission? To discover how they enjoy the job and to plant the seeds of making it a union position.

A driver shared with Jefferson that he has been receiving a raise every two weeks. It was 15 cents here, 35c there. That brings his total hourly wage at $17.35 after two decades of working for UPS. Jefferson explained to Jefferson that UPS drivers make twice the amount. “He dropped his head and shook it. Jefferson, a Jefferson forklift operator, who was previously employed by UPS and is now a member of Teamsters for over 15 years, says he didn’t know what he did.

This is part of a push from the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters to unionize Amazon, one of the great powerful and influential unions in the country after it voted unanimously to take on the e-commerce giant in a resolution this Summer.

It’s a difficult fight to win. However, the union of over 100 years believes the stakes are too high and calls the company a market capitalization of $1.7 trillion an “existential danger” to its industry standards regarding pay and working conditions. It’s beginning to mobilize its 1.4million members — who work in all aspects of the logistics industry, including trucking and warehouse operations — to have conversations about Amazon with family, friends, and neighbors.

Randy Korgan, a union leader, was appointed last year as the Amazon national director. “Our members work alongside these workers. They live alongside the workers. They are close to the workers. They are friends of these workers.”

Union members are showing up at school board meetings and city council meetings, protesting new Amazon warehouses and tax breaks. They’re speaking to elected officials. They’re giving testimony before Congress on antitrust reform. They are part of an ambitious strategy for achieving change through organizing, legislation, and public pressure.

As union members interact with other workers in their communities, they can offer more training. They will walk people through the dos (ask open-ended questions) and don’ts (don’t be aggressive or forceful). Korgan states that people don’t usually have these conversations.

Stephen Robertson (38-year-old UPS driver) has begun going door to a house in Southern California over the weekend, asking people their opinions about Amazon’s effect on public safety, pollution, and employment in the area. The company’s semi-trucks that run down residential streets and by schools are a common complaint. Or how Amazon got a sweetheart deal from the city but cannot fix the potholes littering their streets.

He asks Amazon employees how long they have been working there and plan to purchase a home shortly. He replies that they will never be able the afford that answer. Robertson, a big truck driver, makes $41 per hour plus has a pension.

Korgan claims that Amazon doesn’t pay the living wage necessary to sustain a middle-class lifestyle. According to a New York Times investigation, turnover rates are around 150% per annum. Korgan states that Amazon employees are often new to the industry and don’t know what they should do or be treated.

Dan Gross (49), a UPS driver in New Jersey, said he sees Amazon workers today and sees a part of himself back in 1997. “I was a future Teamster, but I didn’t know that.”

Amazon has increased its compensation and benefits. Warehouse workers are paid an average of $18 per hour, more than twice the federal minimum wage. Other benefits include health insurance, a match to a 401k, and up to 20 weeks of parental leave. Amazon hires third-party contractors who pay delivery drivers an hourly rate of up to $20. Amazon conducts regular audits of what it is paying its contractors. This year, the company spent $700,000,000 in rate increases for support bonuses, as well as recruiting expenses, according to a spokesperson for Amazon.

The company claims it is proud to offer its workers benefits and pay and creates short-term and long-term employment opportunities. Agra states that some employees remain with us throughout the year while others leave to pursue other income streams. Agrait says that the majority of company employees are ex-workers.

Amazon easily defeated the first significant U.S. warehouse unionization effort earlier this year, as workers in Alabama voted against representation from the smaller Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. The workers complained about poor working conditions, including high production quotas, constant supervision, and limited rest time. However, they also demanded higher wages and benefits.

Amazon states that employees can always join a union but don’t believe this is the best way. Again says, “Every day we empower employees to find ways of improving their jobs, and when they do that, it wants to make those changes fast.” “This kind of continuous improvement is more difficult to achieve quickly and nimbly without unions in the middle.”

The Alabama result is being challenged by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which found that Amazon illegally discouraged organizations at the warehouse.

The ultimate goal of the Teamsters to unionize Amazon workers is not in doubt. However, they have stated that they will not seek representation through traditional workplace election procedures overseen by NLRB. The resolution says that they will be trying to exert pressure on Amazon through strikes, boycotts, and other acts of “shop-floor violence.” New union leaders elected this month will also determine the direction of the union.

However, it will be a tedious process. Due to Amazon’s high turnover rate, it is hard for employers to find employees. Some people are not open to the full-court press offered by the union. Some aren’t sure why the Teamsters get involved. Jefferson, the forklift driver, said that employees told Jefferson they didn’t want a dog in the fight. “I say I feel like we do. We’ve had better, and I want to make it better for you all.”

Jefferson’s 22-year-old cousin, Jefferson, works at an Amazon warehouse near Memphis. 

Jefferson says that it will ultimately be up to Amazon workers. Jefferson says he will continue to talk. “There’s an old saying, each one, teach one,” he said. “If we simply reach out and communicate with them, and let them know that there is something better for them than they are currently experiencing, that’s the first step.”

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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