Independent Amazon Labor Union moves to affiliate with Teamsters

The independent labor union representing Amazon workers which won a historic victory at an Amazon warehouse in New York in 2022 — is moving to formally affiliate with the Teamsters, an alliance that could help revive the struggling organization.

Pending ratification, Tuesday’s announcement means members of the Amazon Labor Union will become part of the Teamsters organization, a development in the union’s ongoing effort to organize at Amazon, the country’s second-largest private employer.

More than two years after ALU’s victory, Amazon has not recognized the labor union at its Staten Island warehouse and continues to appeal the result of the election there in a legal process that could draw out for years. ALU leaders say they are frustrated that federal labor regulators have not ordered Amazon to begin negotiating with the union.

Amazon did not immediately return a request for comment. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.

Since its big win, the leadership of ALU, which inspired dozens of follow-on campaigns across the country, has experienced a schism. Some union leaders alleged that the president and face of the campaign, Chris Smalls, wasted union resources on a press tour while ignoring important organizing work, resulting in a split between the two groups and an ongoing lawsuit.


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Smalls called the suit “ridiculous” and said ALU is “worker-led … not Chris led.”

Following a period of overexpansion in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Amazon slowed its growth, canceling the opening of some warehouses, and this week confirmed the closure of warehouses in Washington state and California. It is under investigation by federal workplace health and safety regulators, a congressional committee chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, which is investigating claims that Amazon allegedly concealed worker injuries.

The effort to unionize Amazon coincides with a period of heightened enthusiasm among Americans for labor unions, which won historic gains last year after strikes disrupted parts of the economy. The United Auto Workers under its new president Shawn Fain won large raises and other perks through an acrimonious strike against Detroit automakers last fall. Then the union held a landslide vote in favor of the union at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee in April. Meanwhile, Hollywood actors and Kaiser Permanente nurses have walked out by the tens of thousands demanding higher pay.

The labor movement still faces an uphill climb. Last year, only 10 percent of U.S. workers were in a union, a record low, in part due to the explosive growth of the nation’s workforce. And a wave of high-profile victories at previously nonunion companies, such as Starbucks, Trader Joe’s and REI, has yet to achieve first union contracts for workers.

Smalls told The Post that the move to affiliate with the Teamsters “made sense as opposed to working on separate campaigns” to organize Amazon.

“The Teamsters have the most expertise when it comes to logistics in this country as far as delivery drivers,” Smalls said. “They have money, volunteers and locals all over the country.”

The Teamsters, who historically represent drivers and delivery workers, announced their intent to organize Amazon workers in 2021, appointing Randy Korgan as director of its Amazon Division.

The Teamsters, which last year threatened UPS with a nationwide shutdown, could bring fresh momentum and organizing heft to the effort to unionize Amazon. The narrowly averted strike won UPS’s 340,000 union members the strongest contract in decades, forcing the shipping giant to abolish a lower-paid tier of workers and securing 48 percent average raises for part-time workers over five years.

Teamsters President Sean O’Brien has said that he hopes the union can use the gains in the UPS contract to inspire Amazon workers to join the Teamsters. A copy of the affiliation agreement between the parties obtained by The Post states that ALU will form an autonomous local made up of Amazon warehouse employees in New York City with the privileges and duties of standard Teamsters membership. It did not specify whether members will pay union dues to the Teamsters.

ALU board members from the Staten Island warehouse, as well as affiliates from Amazon warehouses in California, Kentucky and North Carolina, traveled last month to Washington to meet with O’Brien and other Teamsters leadership at the union’s headquarters, where they discussed a potential affiliation, Smalls said.

ALU’s reform caucus and the Teamsters did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move to add Amazon warehouse workers to its ranks builds on O’Brien’s pledge to take a more aggressive approach to organizing Amazon. O’Brien ascended to the union’s top job in 2022, with the support of internal reformers, ending decades of Hoffa family leadership.

When ALU won the first election at an Amazon warehouse, organized labor groups such as the American Postal Workers Union and the American Federation of Teachers lined up to back the group. Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) also showed their support.

But as Amazon has mounted continuous legal challenges to the union’s victory, and infighting between factions of the union has been made public, public and financial support for the group has withered. Union elections held by ALU at nearby warehouses in New York City and Albany failed. The Teamsters offer ALU financial, legal and structural support.

So far this month, the Teamsters have filed three unfair labor practice charges against Amazon on behalf of workers in Kentucky, Illinois and Michigan.

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