In a historic advance, Amazon Labor Union joins the Teamsters

Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls and California union members rally against Amazon’s plans to buy the One Medical health care chain, San Francisco, July 26.

On April 1, 2022, the Amazon Labor Union made history when it won — by a landslide — a union representation election at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York. JFK8 became the first unionized Amazon facility in the U.S.

After the vote, in an attempt to overturn the election, Amazon management filed a number of charges against the ALU with the National Labor Relations Board, along with charges against the NLRB itself. The NLRB ruled against Amazon on every count.

Since then, the company has stalled negotiations and continued its union-busting tactics at other locations that the union has tried to organize. The ALU still does not have a first contract at JFK8.

Now things have changed. The ALU, which began as an independent union, will now have the material resources needed to take on Amazon. 

On June 5, the Teamsters union made this groundbreaking announcement: “In a milestone for organized labor, the Amazon Labor Union has formally affiliated with the 1.3 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The affiliation supplies renewed representation and stronger resources for Amazon workers — behind the wheel and inside warehouses — as they organize and demand a contract from the global behemoth.” (teamster.org)

The Teamsters board voted unanimously to approve the affiliation, which ALU members will vote on in the coming weeks. The newly chartered ALU-International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Local 1, which will represent the 8,000 workers at JFK8, will have jurisdiction over all Amazon facilities in the five boroughs of New York City and “will have access to the financial and organizational resources of the Teamsters International Union, the Teamsters Amazon Division and Teamsters Joint Council 16 in New York.”

ALU President Chris Smalls said: “Our message is clear. We want a contract and we want it now. We are putting Amazon on notice that we are coming. It is time to bargain.”

Capitalist class vs. ALU

For the crime of taking on one of the world’s biggest corporations and winning, the ALU, President Smalls and other African American ALU leaders have drawn the ire of the ruling class. The capitalist mouthpiece, The New York Times, launched a thinly-veiled attack on Smalls in March 2023, drawing attention to an opposition group, the ALU Democratic Reform Caucus. The Times followed up with a second article in July 2023 on a court action by the caucus to force an election of officers. (workers.org/2023/03/70079/)

Regardless of the motives of the Reform Caucus, the goal of the Times and the class it speaks for was to undermine the ALU and exacerbate divisions — including differences over prioritizing contract negotiations at JFK8 versus unionizing more Amazon facilities. Clearly, both needed to take place simultaneously, a difficult feat for an organization with limited resources. 

With the affiliation to a major union that has over 1 million members, those limitations are no longer an obstacle. The union statement indicates that the opposition group also supports the ALU joining the Teamsters.

The ALU may have to fight with the Teamsters to assert its political positions, which include support for Palestinian liberation and opposing the U.S. blockade against Cuba. The Teamsters union has not even joined other major unions that have taken a moderate position in favor of a ceasefire in Gaza.

Nevertheless, this historic development is an advance for Amazon workers everywhere and for the whole working class.

 

Martha Grevatt

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Martha Grevatt
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