Two prominent unions are teaming up to take on Amazon

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

The partnership was finalized after members of the Amazon Labor Union, the only union formally representing Amazon warehouse workers in the United States, chose to join the 1.3 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters in a vote that ended on Monday. The vote was supervised by the Amazon union.

The ALU won a surprise victory in a Staten Island warehouse election in 2022. But it has not yet begun negotiating with Amazon, which continues to contest the election result. 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 ensure Amazon workers secure 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 across the country. The union voted to create a division of Amazon in 2021, and O’Brien was elected that year, in part on the platform of making inroads at the company.

The Teamsters told the ALU that they had allocated $8 million to support the organization at Amazon, according to Christian Smalls, the ALU president, and that the larger union was prepared to tap its strike and defense fund for more than 300 millions of dollars to help in the effort. The Teamsters have not commented on their budget for organizing at Amazon.

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

David Levin, staff 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 contract campaign, said many Teamsters members who were involved in the pressure on UPS were now helping Amazon workers organize.

“Labor leaders and activists are moving away from the UPS contract campaign and getting involved in building volunteer organizing committees at Amazon,” 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 had these different efforts, all these different pockets, that produced some important advances,” said Barry Eidlin, a sociologist at McGill University in Montreal who studies the work. “But they also revealed the limitations of a diffuse approach.”

The affiliation agreement with the Teamsters, a copy of which was shared with The New York Times, stipulates 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 location in organization, research, communication and legal representation.

It also gives the ALU a role in the broader Teamsters Amazon organization, stating that at least three members from the local will participate in the “executive planning and strategic discussions” of the Teamsters’ Amazon chapter, and that the local “will lend its expertise to assist in organizing from other Amazon facilities” across the country.

The ALU energized the labor movement with its victory in 2022, but quickly encountered major challenges. He lost a union election at a nearby warehouse on 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 defeat, with several ALU organizers raising concerns that union leaders had too much power and were unaccountable to members. Mr. Smalls said the union was worker-led.

An ALU splinter group critical of Mr. Smalls filed a lawsuit in 2023 seeking to force leadership elections. The two sides announced a deal in January, and elections are scheduled for the summer, to be overseen by a federal court-approved monitor. Smalls is not a candidate, while the splinter group, the ALU Democratic Reform Caucus, is fielding candidates for all four leadership positions. The list is led by Connor Spence, founder 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 pitched them the idea of ​​joining, Smalls said.

He said the Teamsters offered to make their resources available to Amazon workers — including strike pay — largely preserving the independence of the Amazon union. He signed the affiliation agreement in early June.

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

Spence, the Reform Caucus candidate for president of the ALU, said that if his group won the Staten Island leadership election, he would devise a plan to take on Amazon in consultation with workers and present the plan to the Teamsters in hopes of securing the resources. necessary.

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

Spence and another fired Amazon worker were removed by police last week after appearing in front of the warehouse trying to persuade workers to ratify the affiliation agreement. Police officers handcuffed the two former workers, took them to a police station and handed them tickets requiring court appearances.

Lisa Levandowski, an Amazon spokeswoman, said the company called police because a group, mostly Teamsters, was creating a disturbance outside the warehouse and rejected Amazon’s request to leave. She said after the police arrived, everyone except Mr Spence and his former co-worker left. (Employees are permitted to distribute material outside the building outside of business hours.)

Spence said he has appeared in front of the building many times for organizing purposes in recent weeks without encountering police.