Teamsters to make unionizing Amazon 'highest priority' in proposed vote

The union says it wants to help workers organize walkouts, pickets and petitions to get Amazon to negotiate over pay and safety.

Laura Hautala
Laura Hautala
Laura Hautala
Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
Expertise E-commerce, Amazon, earned wage access, online marketplaces, direct to consumer, unions, labor and employment, supply chain, cybersecurity, privacy, stalkerware, hacking. Credentials 2022 Eddie Award for a single article in consumer technology
3 min read

The Teamsters say they can help with Amazon's workplace turnover with improved conditions.

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Unionizing Amazon will be the most important goal for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a major US union, if its members vote to approve a resolution Thursday. The vote, reported earlier by Motherboard, would launch a national campaign aimed at Amazon building on work the union has already done to connect with warehouse workers and drivers who want to improve conditions at the e-commerce giant, according to the union's announcement Tuesday.

The resolution will confirm "that building worker power at Amazon and ultimately helping Amazon workers achieve a union contract is the highest priority for the Teamsters Union," the announcement said. The vote will take place at a national convention the union holds every five years. According to Motherboard, the resolution is expected to pass resoundingly.

Amazon didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The announcement comes as Amazon faces scrutiny for its workplace practices from the National Labor Relations Board, as well as lawsuits over unpaid time and alleged workplace harassment and discrimination in its warehouses and corporate offices. The company has become the second largest employer in the US, and employment law experts expect the company to attract more lawsuits over working conditions in addition to organizing efforts.

If the Teamsters resolution passes, don't expect more contentious union elections like the one that took place in Bessemer, Alabama, and ended in defeat for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union in April. The Teamsters' national Amazon director Randy Korgan says the union will help workers pressure the e-commerce giant to negotiate over working conditions through walkouts, picket lines and community pressure campaigns.

The union doesn't want a repeat of that vote, especially after seeing Amazon's practices during the weeks' long mail-in election period, in which it reportedly required workers to sit through anti-union trainings and singled them out if they challenged the content. The company also allegedly installed a mailbox with the appearance of a voting booth on its premises, which the union said gave the false impression that Amazon was involved in counting the votes. The RWDSU challenged the election results to the National Labor Relations Board, which is currently considering whether to require a new vote.

"We don't consider unionizing to just be the NLRB process," said Korgan. "Quite frankly, in a lot of cases it's the last avenue to take."

With the help of the Teamsters, workers could instead petition to lower quotas or slow down mandatory rates inside fulfillment centers or on delivery routes. They could also organize walkouts or strikes without being officially unionized. Workers who've attempted to organize walkouts on their own at Amazon in the past have faced retaliation, the NLRB has reportedly found, with some losing their jobs. Amazon has disputed the workers' versions of events while settling the NLRB cases.

The Teamsters' effort is already underway. The union has been connecting with Amazon workers and tracking the company's impact since its last convention in 2016, according to the resolution. Korgan, who also runs a local union in San Bernardino, California, told CNET that the Teamsters could bring its expertise in logistics and delivery workplace standards to improve safety and employee retention at Amazon. A recent New York Times report said that Amazon had to replace the equivalent of its entire workforce every eight months even before the pandemic.