Amazon has to Reckon with the Teamsters Now

The independent union representing Amazon workers in Staten Island announced on Tuesday it is now officially affiliated with the Teamsters.

Photo of an Amazon Labor Union strike
Photo by Joe Piette via CC BY-SA 2.0

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There’s no ‘I’ in team, but there is in union.

The Amazon Labor Union, an independent union representing the workers at the JFK8 warehouse (or, as Amazon calls it, “fulfillment center”) in Staten Island, announced on Tuesday it is now officially affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters following a union vote. That means Amazon has to deal with one of America’s oldest, biggest unions, which has its eye on more warehouses than just JFK8.

Teaming Up

The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) was formed in 2022 after a union drive led by former JFK8 worker Chris Smalls. Smalls became a media figure in 2020 after he was fired following a walkout protesting what he described as lax COVID-19 safety in the warehouse. Amazon maintained he was fired for breaking social-distancing policy. Although the ALU won recognition two years ago, it has not yet started negotiating with Amazon. That’s partly because the company is still fighting to have the vote nullified, though reports have also emerged that Smalls — who said last year he will not stand for reelection as union president — has run into conflicts with his lieutenants.

In the time since the ALU’s 2022 victory, Amazon has not seen much of a domino effect. In fact, despite some incredibly high-profile union activity last year (thank you, Hollywood), 2023 saw union membership in the US workforce fall to record lows. With the Teamsters’ backing, however, Amazon now has to contend with a union that has much deeper pockets than it’s used to, plus national ambitions:

  • The Teamsters are already involved in a union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Kentucky, where pro-union workers are campaigning for a minimum wage of $30 per hour. In January, Amazon said its average pay was $20.50 per hour, with US employees earning between $17 and $28 per hour.
  • Amazon has historically fought hard to prevent unionization among its workforce, and, in 2022, the National Labor Relations Board accused it of unlawful retaliation against the unionizing Staten Island workers. Amazon’s response? Filing a lawsuit accusing the 88-year-old NLRB of being unconstitutionally structured.

Premiumization: According to 2023 US Treasury data, unionized workers tend to earn higher wages than non-unionized workers — exactly how much more depends on how you calculate it, but the Treasury pegged the union wage premium somewhere between 10% and 20%. The Kentucky union drive is gunning for a more than 76% raise on the company’s minimum wage. That’s a pretty big swing, and potentially more of a bargaining position than an actual goal — but given the size of Amazon’s workforce, a 10% increase would be worrisome enough for CEO Andy Jassy.