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Teamsters delegates approve declaration to organize Amazon

Union labels the company an `existential threat’ to its industries, calls for `shop-floor militancy’ by Amazon workers

The Teamsters union has multiple divisions representing workers in the small package, freight, port and airline industries, among others. To those, a new division may eventually be added: Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN).

Teamsters delegates convening Thursday at the union’s two-day convention formally approved a two-page resolution called the “Amazon Project,” which will begin what appears to be the process of organizing the company’s logistics workers. Though his name does not appear in the resolution, Randy Korgan, who heads Local 1932 in San Bernardino, California, will likely lead the effort. San Bernardino is home to the nation’s most important warehousing complex, known as the Inland Empire. Last year, Korgan was appointed national director for Amazon, a signal the 1.4 million-member union was serious about organizing workers at the Seattle-based e-tailing colossus.

In the resolution, the Teamsters attacked Amazon in almost every way imaginable, saying it commits wage theft, fraudulently classifies its workers, forces workers to operate in “dehumanizing and unsafe workplaces,” and offers workers no job security and no voice on the job. But the union also acknowledged that the company is “changing the nature of work” in the U.S. and that it touches a number of industries where it has a strong presence. The union called Amazon an “existential threat” to those industries, which aside from the transportation segment include food service and motion pictures.

The union’s ultimate goal — it doesn’t put a timeline on it — is to create a special “Amazon division” to protect the company’s workers and, in a broader sense, the work standards in the industries that Amazon threatens, it said in the resolution.

The Teamsters said that, to succeed, Amazon will workers will have to engage in “shop-floor militancy” and will need “unquestioned solidarity” from Teamster members working in the warehousing and delivery fields.

The declaration comes nearly three months after Amazon decisively defeated a challenge by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union (RWDSU) to organize warehouse workers at the company’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse. The effort was the most serious threat to Amazon’s nonunion status in its 27-year history. The 56,000-member RWDSU has a fraction of the membership and resources of the Teamsters.

However, the Teamsters have found it tough to organize workers in the logistics ecosystems beyond UPS, a few LTL carriers and port operations. Warehousing, a fast-growing industry with mostly nonunion workers, has been a particularly tough nut to crack. Four years ago, the Teamsters launched an ambitious effort to organize the warehouse and distribution center supply chain. Not much has been heard about the effort since.

XPO Logistics Inc. (NYSE:XPO), the transport and logistics giant, has been the union’s prime target in LTL and warehousing, but its penetration has been limited. XPO employs 210 Teamsters members at six of its U.S. LTL locations, five of which are negotiating with the company for their first-ever contracts. No unionized XPO employee currently works under a contract. About 35,000 XPO employees are legally eligible to join a union, according to company data.

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes UPS (No. 2) and XPO Logistics (No. 8).

Mark Solomon

Formerly the Executive Editor at DC Velocity, Mark Solomon joined FreightWaves as Managing Editor of Freight Markets. Solomon began his journalistic career in 1982 at Traffic World magazine, ran his own public relations firm (Media Based Solutions) from 1994 to 2008, and has been at DC Velocity since then. Over the course of his career, Solomon has covered nearly the whole gamut of the transportation and logistics industry, including trucking, railroads, maritime, 3PLs, and regulatory issues. Solomon witnessed and narrated the rise of Amazon and XPO Logistics and the shift of the U.S. Postal Service from a mail-focused service to parcel, as well as the exponential, e-commerce-driven growth of warehouse square footage and omnichannel fulfillment.