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How the Teamsters and a Homegrown Union Plan to Take on Amazon

After years of organizing Amazon workers and pressuring the company to negotiate on wages and conditions, two prominent unions are joining forces to challenge the online retailer.

The partnership became permanent after members of the Amazon Labor Union, the only union that formally represents Amazon’s warehouse workers in the United States, overwhelmingly chose to join the 1, in voting that ended Monday. 3 million member International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The vote was led by the Amazon Union.

The ALU won a surprise victory in a Staten Island warehouse election in 2022. But it has yet to begin negotiating with Amazon, which continues to challenge the election results. Leaders of both unions said the affiliation deal would put them in a better position to challenge Amazon and provide the ALU with more money and workforce support.

“The Teamsters and ALU will fight fearlessly to ensure that Amazon workers secure the good jobs and safe working conditions they deserve in a union contract,” Teamsters President Sean O’Brien said in a statement early Tuesday.

Amazon declined to comment on the affiliation.

The Teamsters are ramping up their efforts to organize Amazon workers nationwide. The union voted to create an Amazon division in 2021, and Mr. O’Brien was elected that year, partly on a platform of making progress at the company.

The Teamsters told the ALU that they had allocated $8 million to support the organizing effort at Amazon, according to Christian Smalls, the ALU’s president, and that the larger union was prepared to contribute its strike and defense fund of more than $300 million to speak in support of the effort. The Teamsters did not comment on their budget for the organization at Amazon.

The Teamsters also recently reached an affiliation agreement with workers organizing at Amazon’s largest aircraft hub in the United States, a facility in Kentucky known as KCVG. Experts have said unionization at KCVG could give workers significant leverage because Amazon relies heavily on the hub to meet its one- and two-day shipping targets.

David Levin, staff director of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a union reform group that helped mobilize United Parcel Service workers during last year’s successful contract campaign, said many Teamsters members who were involved in pressuring UPS were now helping Amazon workers organize.

“Worker leaders and activists emerge from UPS’s contract campaign and become involved in setting up Amazon’s volunteer organizing committees,” Mr. Levin said.

Efforts to unionize Amazon over the past decade have spanned a variety of established unions and independent worker groups. Some experts argue that given the company’s size and longstanding opposition to unions, establishing a significant union presence there will require some organizational consolidation.

“We’ve had these different efforts, all these different pockets, that produced some important breakthroughs,” said Barry Eidlin, a sociologist at McGill University in Montreal who studies labor. “But they also revealed the limitations of a diffuse approach.”

The partnership agreement with the Teamsters, a copy of which was shared with The New York Times, states that the ALU has the exclusive right to organize additional Amazon warehouse workers in New York City within the Teamsters. The ALU also promises to assist the new facility with organizing, research, communications and legal representation.

It also gives the ALU a role in the Teamsters’ broader Amazon organization, stating that at least three members of the local chapter will participate in “managerial planning and strategy discussions” of the Teamsters’ Amazon division, and that the local chapter will “deploy its expertise to help organize other Amazon facilities” across the country.

The ALU energized the labor movement with its 2022 victory, but it soon faced major challenges. It lost a union election at a nearby Staten Island warehouse a few weeks later and another election at a warehouse near Albany, N.Y., that fall.

The union began to fracture after the second defeat, with several ALU organizers expressing concern that union leaders had too much power and were not accountable to members. Mr. Smalls claimed that the union was run by workers.

A dissident group within the ALU critical of Mr. Smalls filed a lawsuit in 2023 seeking to force a leadership election. The two sides announced a settlement in January, and elections are scheduled for the summer, overseen by a monitor approved by a federal court. Mr. Smalls is not a candidate, while the dissident group, the ALU Democratic Reform Caucus, nominate candidates for all four leadership positions. The list is led by Connor Spence, an ALU founder.

Meanwhile, the ALU struggled financially, closing last year with $33,000 in assets and $81,000 in liabilities, federal documents show.

In May, both ALU factions visited the Teamsters headquarters in Washington, where Teamsters officials pitched them on the idea of ​​joining, Mr. Smalls said.

He said the Teamsters had offered to make their resources available to Amazon workers — including strike benefits — while largely maintaining independence from the Amazon union. He signed the connection agreement at the beginning of June.

The signature surprised the reform faction, which had told the Teamsters that ALU members would need more time to deliberate. But the faction ultimately decided to support the affiliation as long as ALU members ratified it, saying it would help “turn the beachhead we have secured on Staten Island into a militant, autonomous local chapter.”

Mr. Spence, the reform group’s candidate for ALU president, said that if his group won the Staten Island leadership election, it would work with workers to draw up a plan to take on Amazon and present that plan to the Teamsters in hopes of securing the necessary resources.

Amazon fired Mr. Spence last fall for what he said were violations of its policy on off-duty access to its facilities. He is challenging the firing in a case before an administrative law judge at the National Labor Relations Board.

Mr. Spence and another fired Amazon worker were removed by police last week after they showed up at the warehouse to persuade workers to ratify the affiliation agreement. Officers handcuffed the two former workers, took them to a station and gave them tickets that required a court appearance.

Lisa Levandowski, a spokeswoman for Amazon, said the company called police after a group, mostly Teamsters, caused a disturbance outside the warehouse and rejected Amazon’s request to leave. She said that after police arrived, everyone except Mr Spence and his former colleague had left. (Employees may distribute materials outside the building outside of working hours.)

Mr Spence said he had shown up outside the building several times in recent weeks to organize, but never encountered police.

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