Teamsters plan sweeping effort to unionize Amazon workers

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Helen H Richardson/AP</span>
Photograph: Helen H Richardson/AP

One of the largest unions in the US is expected this week to launch a broad effort to unionize Amazon employees.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents 1.4 million workers in 500 unions nationwide, will vote on Thursday on a landmark resolution to make its highest priority helping Amazon workers achieve a union contract.

The resolution is expected to pass and will create a special division called the Amazon Project to aid workers in organizing. It marks the largest coordinated effort thus far to unionize the company, the second-largest employer in the US.

The Amazon Project is the culmination of years of research the Teamsters have been conducting into organizing the firm, according to a copy of the resolution viewed by the Guardian. The group said it had been tracking Amazon’s growth and speaking with thousands of workers to develop different operating theories on the best way to engage and support them.

“The International Brotherhood of Teamsters recognizes that there is no clearer example of how America is failing the working class than Amazon,” the resolution reads.

Related: Amazon fired him – now he’s trying to unionize 5,000 workers in New York

The resolution comes after an effort to create Amazon’s first union, in an Alabama warehouse, failed in April. The vote – 1,798 opposed and 738 in favor from about 6,000 eligible employees – was seen as a significant blow to the modern labor movement.

Amazon mounted an aggressive response to the Alabama campaign, allegedly forcing employees to attend anti-union presentations. The retail union behind the organizing effort said in a complaint that some workers had also believed they were being surveilled and intimidated during the vote.

Amazon has long come under fire for its working conditions, including not allowing warehouse workers sufficient bathroom breaks, putting them in danger of frequent injury, and forcing them to spend hours on foot. Its delivery drivers have also complained of labor concerns, including video surveillance of their every move and lack of bathroom access.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment. Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder, acknowledged the union effort in a shareholder letter in April, vowing to make Amazon a safer place to work by reducing sprains, strains and other injuries at warehouses. “I think we need to do a better job for our employees,” Bezos said.

Labor organizations have applauded the Teamsters’ campaign, saying Amazon workers do not have necessary protections and that the company is not likely to provide them unless pushed by collective action.

“Amazon is one of the most dangerous corporations in the world today,” said Shona Clarkson, an organizer for Gig Workers Rising. “Their very business model is a threat to all workers. The more resources put behind supporting workers building power on the job, the better.”

The vote on Thursday will take place at the Teamsters’ 30th International Convention, an online conference in which all 500 Teamsters unions will set the priorities for the organization and nominate officers to serve for the next five years.

“Amazon workers are uniting to improve their livelihoods, and the Teamsters are supporting them because they deserve what we have, and because we need to maintain the standards for which our members have worked so hard,” Randy Korgan, the national director for the Teamsters’ Amazon organizing, said in a recent op-ed on the vote.

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