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Amazon's struggling union joins forces with the Teamsters

Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls leads a pro-union march in New York City in 2022. Workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island voted to unionize that year, but they've since struggled to negotiate a contract with the company.
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Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls leads a pro-union march in New York City in 2022. Workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island voted to unionize that year, but they've since struggled to negotiate a contract with the company.

It's a new chapter in an effort to push Amazon to recognize its unionized U.S. workers.

The independent Amazon Labor Union, which made history organizing the first and only unionized Amazon warehouse, has voted to affiliate with the hefty Teamsters.

For two years now, Amazon has refused to recognize the upstart union or begin bargaining with some 5,500 workers it represents in Staten Island, N.Y. The company continues to legally challenge the union's victory, while the union's finances and internal cohesion have deteriorated.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters had set its own sights on Amazon fulfillment workers years ago; the effort has not resulted in any union elections yet. But it's a massive organization, with 1.3 million members, which last year negotiated a historic contract for its UPS workers.

The Teamsters will now lend their financial and organizational resources to the Amazon Labor Union, the two groups said in an announcement on Tuesday. Organizers have advocated for higher wages, longer breaks and changes to speed and safety standards.

"The Teamsters and ALU will fight fearlessly to ensure Amazon workers secure the good jobs and safe working conditions they deserve in a union contract," Teamsters general president Sean O’Brien said in a statement, calling Amazon a "corporate bully" that "will have to answer to the Teamsters and ALU, standing together.”

Amazon, which did not respond to NPR's inquiry on Tuesday, has long argued that unions aren't the best choice for, or the preference of, most of its employees.

The Teamsters recently also joined forces with Amazon workers at an air hub in Kentucky, pushing to unionize a transportation nerve center at the heart of the company's fast shipping.

The Amazon Labor Union, after its victory in Staten Island, held two other elections in New York but lost in both of them. The group's leader Chris Smalls — an Amazon worker who got fired after staging a pandemic-era walkout — originally argued that only a scrappy grassroots and independent effort could succeed at organizing his warehouse.

Separately, Amazon workers at a warehouse in Alabama are waiting to learn whether they'll get a third shot at a union election. The most recent vote, which has remained too close to call since 2022, is being reviewed in a legal hearing expected to last most of the summer.

Editor's note: Amazon is among NPR's recent financial supporters.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Alina Selyukh
Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she covers retail, low-wage work, big brands and other aspects of the consumer economy. Her work has been recognized by the Gracie Awards, the National Headliner Award and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.