Amazon: The company we hate to love, for its convenient next-day deliveries, and we love to hate, for its egregious treatment of the workers that execute that miracle.
It really needs no introduction. Amazon is a corporate giant with 1.5 million employees, most of which are in the Teamsters’ bread and butter industry: logistics, meaning warehouse workers and delivery drivers. Only, these workers are almost entirely non-union. But the problem with Amazon is not just its own non-union pay and working conditions. Left unchecked, Amazon may just start a race to the bottom for the working class as a whole.
The Teamsters, alongside other unions and worker collectives, are trying to change that. And in April earlier this year, 84 of Amazon’s delivery drivers and dispatchers in Palmdale, California joined Teamsters Local 396 and won a first contract. This is a huge deal, but it’s not an uncomplicated victory.
In this episode, you’ll hear from one of those Amazon drivers, Arturo Solezano, about their working conditions, and why he and his now-union siblings joined the Teamsters. We also spoke with Alex Press, staff writer at Jacobin magazine, who unpacked why Amazon is a threat that needs to be taken seriously by the Teamsters and the rest of organized labor.
Finally, you’ll hear an update on UPS contract negotiations from Greg Kerwood, a package car delivery driver from Teamsters Local 25 in Boston.
Additional links/info below…
- Support the show at Patreon.com/upsurgepod.
- Follow us on Twitter @upsurgepod, Facebook, The Upsurge, and YouTube @upsurgepod.
- Check out Alex Press’s article on the UPS contract campaign in Jacobin magazine, and Teddy’s video collaboration with More Perfect Union on why UPSers may strike this August.
The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.
Alex Press: what does organizing Amazon do for u p s workers? Well, if they don’t organize Amazon warehouse workers and delivery drivers soon, they may just not exist as a union.
Teddy: Amazon: The company we hate to love, for its convenient next-day deliveries, and we love to hate, for its egregious treatment of the workers that execute that miracle.
Arturo: On the side, I have to donate my plasma to make the extra money for anything that. I can’t cover with my, Hey, it’s all my days off.
I have to go do something to make sure I have that money for us to make sure we can’t get by.
Teddy: See the problem with Amazon is not just its own non-union pay and working conditions. But that left unchecked, it may just start a race to the bottom for the working class as a whole.
Hello my name is Teddy Ostrow. Welcome to the Upsurge, a podcast about UPS, the Teamsters, and the future of the American labor movement.
This podcast unpacks the unprecedented labor fight this year at UPS. In July, the contract of over 340,000 UPS workers will expire and if those workers strike, which is a real possibility, it will be the largest strike against a single company in US history.
The Upsurge is produced in partnership with In These Times and The Real News Network. Both are nonprofit media organizations that cover the labor movement closely. Check them out at inthesetimes.com and therealnews.com where you can also find an archive of all our past episodes.
And now our short episodic plea: We are a listener-funded podcast. We cannot do this work without you. We are currently in a patron drive right now. We’d like to reach 200 monthly supporters of our Patreon by July. We are pretty far off from that. We are at 67, which makes this show completely unsustainable.
Now you may be thinking hey, the strike may happen in August, it’s already June, how much can I really help them. Well, a lot actually. For two reasons: First, We’ve done a lot of work already with very few patrons, so your support will help make up for that time.
And second, we may not be going anywhere after the Teamsters contract fight is done. Can’t share many details, but The Upsurge may continue and we’ll need your help to do that. So please, head over to patreon.com/upsurgepod and become a supporter today. You can find the link in the description.
Also a reminder: The next 24 people to become patrons, will get a free one-year subscription to In These Times magazine.
Alright onto the show.
I’m gonna make this intro pretty quick because we have a lot of ground to cover. In this episode we’re unpacking the existential threat – to UPSers, to the Teamsters, to unions in general, and the working class as a whole: Amazon.
It really needs no introduction. Amazon is a corporate giant with 1.5 million employees, on pace to become the largest private sector employer in the country. And the majority of that workforce is in the logistics industry. Warehouse workers, delivery drivers. And surprise, surprise, they’re mostly unorganized.
But Teamsters, alongside other unions and worker collectives, are trying to change that. Indeed, the Teamsters has its own Amazon Organizing Division, with organizers around the country, which it launched a few years ago.
And in April earlier this year, 84 of Amazon’s delivery drivers and dispatchers in Palmdale, California joined Teamsters Local 396 and won a first contract. Now, this is a huge deal, but it’s not an uncomplicated victory.
For this episode, we’ll get into why and we spoke to one of those drivers, Arturo Solezano, about the working conditions at Amazon and why he and his now-union-siblings joined the Teamsters.
But before you hear from Arturo, we’re gonna zoom out with Alex Press, staff writer at Jacobin magazine, who was one of the key reporters covering Amazon workers’ conditions and organizing over the past three years. She’s gonna help us understand why Amazon is a threat that needs to be taken seriously by the Teamsters and the rest of organized labor. And she also recently wrote an excellent article about the UPS contract campaign that you should definitely read and I’ll put in the description.
Now, before we even get to Alex, it’s been a little while since we discussed the state of the contract campaign and negotiations between UPS and the Teamsters. I spoke to Local 25 UPS rank and file, Greg Kerwood, in Boston this past weekend about what’s been happening since negotiations at the national level started.
But we did speak before Monday, June 5, when important two things happened: First, there was some progress made on some specific issues at the bargaining table, like making supervisors being made identifiable in facilities and lodging reimbursement for semi-truck drivers.
But the big news is of course that the international union called for an in-person strike authorization vote.
That means that UPSers at the gates of their hubs, at their union halls. will be voting on whether or not the union has the permission to call a strike in the event there is no new contract by August 1.
The results will be known Friday, June 16. The IBT is recommending UPSers vote yes.
Now, how this vote goes – what percentage of UPSers vote yes and what percentage of the workforce participates at all – it’s an important test of how successful the contract campaign has been over the past 10 months.
How successfully locals and rank and file around the country have been organizing their ranks, educating Teamsters on the stakes of this contract, and why the threat of a strike is the greatest leverage any union has in bargaining.
Now for an update with Greg Kerwood.
Teddy Ostrow: Greg Curwood, thanks for joining me on the upsurge.
Greg Kerwood: Thanks for having me today. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Teddy Ostrow: So I just wanna make clear to everyone, Greg is not speaking on behalf of the Teamsters [00:07:00] National Negotiating Committee. He’s just an informed rank and file, member of the International Steering Committee of the Teamsters for Democratic Union, also local 25 in Boston.
He’s a union activist and he does a lot of work organizing and educating his union siblings. So that’s why he’s gonna give us an update. and since we last reported on this podcast, the supplemental or the regional agreements, they weren’t going too well. They’ve since almost been completed entirely.
There’s two left. and of course all of them will have to be voted on by the membership. But Greg, can you bring us up to date? We’re, we’re speaking on the weekend right before negotiations. We’ll start up again. there was a week break, but perhaps you can summarize just how things have been going as far as we know.
Since negotiations started at the national level?
Greg Kerwood: Well, so far, it seems to be, a case of more of the same from the company. I know our committee put forth the elimination of the 2024 [00:08:00] position. I’m not sure how that worked out or what the company’s response was. they’ve also spent a week discussing, technology issues.
again, I don’t really know for certain how the company responded or whether any of that was resolved. I know there is an agreement that came out this week, to limit some of the, package flow into the SurePost system. not too many specifics, but in general it seems to be very slow going.
there seems to be a lot of posturing on the part of the company. not a whole lot of seriousness, still. and so the clock is continuing to tick down. we’re down under 60 days at this point. and so it’s really just, it seems to be more the same. I don’t think the company has really taken this seriously since the beginning of negotiations, and it appears as though they’re continuing down that path.
Teddy Ostrow: So we’re talking about some progress made perhaps on invasive [00:09:00] technology. on everyone’s mind. Of course. Are those inward facing cameras? Sure. Post. Just so everyone knows, progress seems to be made. On basically ups giving teamster work away to the post office. and the, the big demands, 22 fours, PVDs wages, that, those sorts of things, we’re gonna have to wait and see.
But given what’s happened so far, Greg, which doesn’t seem like very much, what’s your perspective on the possibility of a strike? we’re speaking eight weeks out from contract expiration. Is there a chance, that you believe they’ll get to everything or. Are you guys barreling towards, hitting the picket line?
Greg Kerwood: I would say that given the current pace of negotiations, a strike almost seems inevitable. now obviously it’s in the company’s hands if they want to change that approach and come to the table and address issues in a more reasonable and more timely fashion. I haven’t seen any indication of them doing that.
perhaps that [00:10:00] will change and perhaps, you know, the laundry list of major issues that we have, can be addressed, I believe. I think our proposals, to my knowledge, are all there and ready and waiting.
It’s just a question of whether the company wants to take them seriously and, and bargain in good faith. So it is still possible that that could be done, but if things continue on the current pace and with the current attitude of the company, I, I think it very likely that we be on strike. come August 1st.
Teddy Ostrow: Greg Curwood, thanks for giving us that update and offering your perspective. My
Greg Kerwood: pleasure. Thank you.
Teddy Ostrow: Alex Press, thanks for joining me on the
Alex Press: Upsurge. Thanks so much for having me. Happy to be here.
Teddy Ostrow: So I, I wanna open with the threat of Amazon. Why should Teamsters UPSers, but really the broader working class, be concerned about this one company?
Alex Press: Yeah, so I mean to say Amazon is just one [00:11:00] company is sort of downplays how big of a scale we’re talking about when we talk about Amazon as well as the different kind of core functions.
Amazon has different parts of its business, so I feel like a lot of people maybe who are listening to this show would know that obviously Amazon is a gigantic employer. Of warehouse workers as well as delivery drivers, though, you know, important caveat that we’ll get into, which is, those delivery drivers are not direct employees of Amazon, but, so this is a gigantic workforce, second biggest private employer in the United States.
but it’s also, you know, the sort of, the joke I make is Amazon kind of functions as a pacesetter of sorts, a vanguard of capital, if you will.you know what Amazon can get away with. Other companies will then follow in that direction.
That often, quite literally, is true in that Amazon executives will go on to be hired as consultants, especially in human resources for other corporations, who will pay them gobs of money basically to implement [00:12:00] and replicate Amazon’s model. Amazon’s model being squeezing workers a very high pace of work.
incredible use of surveillance technologies on the workforce. Um, and this doesn’t just mean warehouse workers or say delivery drivers like u p s workers, but actually, you know, white collar workers as well. Amazon is sort of exporting these technologies and this sort of way of squeezing workers.
in a way that really applies to all kinds of people, including those who think I have nothing in common with an Amazon warehouse worker. You do. Um, you know, specifically about u p s I think it’s a pretty obvious argument here. You know, u p s has already been existing as this sort of island of unionization within the broader, logistics industry.
you know, they. Have fought very hard to have decent wages and benefits and, you know, a, a sustainable schedule for delivery, for example. Um, Amazon exists to undercut that, right? That’s, if it’s not its aim, it’s its function. so Amazon famously [00:13:00] of course, will get, uh, something to your door within a few hours if you pay enough money for it.
and that means that, you know, they have this entire gigantic network. Of both warehouse workers and delivery drivers who are being, you know, worked at all hours, who work seven days a week, who have a very high pace, of delivery. The famous stories about how no one who’s delivering for Amazon has time to pee at all.
you know, because there’s nowhere to go, right? You need to get your next delivery out immediately. I mean, I think I often say this to people where I’m like, Have you ever really had a conversation with an Amazon delivery person who is delivering packages to your apartment building? Um, no. They don’t have time for that.
They, you know, even if you tried to stop them, you would actually be annoying them because they have a schedule to stick to. and so that undermines the standards. That u p s workers have fought for a very long time, um, to get, and I think, you know, especially the new leadership of the Teamsters, Sean O’Brien recognizes that existential threat that you cannot exist forever.
with this [00:14:00] growing behemoth, constantly undercutting your standards, you know, u p s. We’ll use Amazon as kind of a, a wedge and say, well, we can’t agree to this in the contract cuz you know, we’re gonna go out of business if we keep having these heavy labor costs. And while that’s nonsense, you know, up s has a enormous amount of profits.
it is a real argument, that the teamsters need to take seriously. And the best answer to it would be organizing Amazon workers themselves.
Teddy Ostrow: You sort of, uh, began with this, but I, I do wanna take a step back. What even is Amazon? is it a logistics company, retail tech? Can you give us a sense of the huge landscape that is this, uh, one or multiple companies?
Alex Press: Yeah. So it’s a surprisingly complicated answer. so it’s all of those things. It is a logistics company. It is an e-commerce. Retail company. It’s one of the, you know, largest e-commerce companies, in existence. it’s [00:15:00] also importantly the web infrastructure that other companies rely upon. So, you know, if you’re on a Zoom call, you’re using Amazon Web services or aws, which is the company’s most profitable arm.
Right. if you’re using Uber, you’re using Amazon’s computational power and space. they’re also smaller things like selling se surveillance technology to law enforcement. Amazon is a major cultural producer. It is a member of the producer organization that currently is being struck. by the Writer’s Guild of America.
You know, they make television and films, and this is something Jeff Bezos really likes, you know, the cultural arm, the cache and glamor. it’s also importantly one of the biggest platforms for third party vendors, right? So other companies, small businesses using Amazon’s websites, as well as Amazon’s warehouses and delivery drivers to get their goods to customers doors.
So there are all these different arms going on. so while in the labor world, we speak the most [00:16:00] about the warehouse workers and you know, maybe to a lesser extent the delivery drivers, and rightly so, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of workers. It is also all of these other things and they’re integrated together, right?
You. You need the computational power of a w s for the warehouses to function surveillance technology is tested in the warehouses and then exported not only to other companies, but to other countries as well. Um, and so Amazon, you know, I think in trying to think about this, you know, I think one, there are a couple metaphors we could use.
One is, you know, the, the company in the company town. Right. A sort of private government, that functions kind of as an overlord of sorts or a control mechanism. or, I think one kind of metaphor I use a lot is kind of a toll collector, right? Amazon wants to be a. The thing you have to go through to get to everything else, whether it’s goods, whether it’s the internet and infrastructure, all of these things.
Amazon kind of [00:17:00] has been very good at warming its way into the middle of, so that it gets a cut as a middleman from everything. and so I think there are all those different ways to. To think about it. Um, but finally I would just say, you know, thinking of it as a utility because it’s so kind of inescapable for all of the reasons I just mentioned, also can be kind of productive in starting to think about what regulation of Amazon would look like.
Teddy Ostrow: That’s a really interesting point to think of it as a utility. So, so this logistics side of Amazon that’s integrated into this sort of expanding hole, uh, you did really great work covering the organizing at Amazon over the past few years.
could you give us a sense of how. Union organizing or organizing otherwise at the company has been going, you know, what, what are people fighting for or fighting against and what are the different efforts we’ve seen, the obstacles, um, and the future of Amazon.
Alex Press: Yeah. So I often start to answer this question by sort of giving some perspective [00:18:00] here in the form of an anecdote, which is, I was at the Labor Notes Conference, a biannual gathering of labor activists, rank and file workers and so on. I was there I think five years ago, and there was a sort of little secret side conversation going on, about salting Amazon.
Meaning, you know, purposely getting jobs at Amazon warehouses to then organize those warehouses. And this was a pretty controversial conversation. A lot of people were very negative on it. Um, they thought this was, you know, a doom strategy, that this was actually in fact sort of dangerous and that these efforts would fail.
and aren’t there so many other warehouses with kind of decrepit unions? you know, for example, u p s warehouses, that might have kind of less active locals that would be much better uses of kind of young radicals time. if they really felt the need to kind of intentionally get a job, with the purpose of organizing.
and it seemed very obvious to me at the time that. That all was true, [00:19:00] that none of these people were incorrect about the problems with this idea, but also these young people in particular were gonna do it anyway, right? Like this was exciting. This is on, you know, on pace to be the largest private employer in the United States.
and so these efforts were going to start and we sort of saw them start to, you know, the outcome of those early efforts is, has been finally going public over the past couple of years. So you know, everyone’s heard about Bessemer, which, you know, was the first, Amazon warehouse in the United States to hold an N L R B election.
That was in 2021. It failed. there were, there are endless back and forths about Amazon violating labor law during that election. But you know, as it stands, they did not vote to unionize, um, that facility. You know, it the sort of, I think it’s an interesting example in that, you know, even failed efforts leave a trace on work, the working class in that, you know, if you speak to Chris Smalls, the, the founder of [00:20:00] the Amazon Labor Union out in Staten Island, he’ll tell you that it was Bessemer and watching that failure that led him to.
Decide to organize his own facility. and you know, and it’s why he decided to go with an independent union. He felt there were certain failures that, you know, came from the existing union trying to do it, and that actually it would only be an independent union that could win. for reasons that I think are arguable.
But certainly he was proven correct at JFK eight. so that was the first. And only Amazon warehouse to win an an L or B election. I think that was what, April of last year? April 1st. Cuz I remember it being a very funny. April Fool’s joke that they had actually won.
and, and from there, there are, you know, efforts at, at different levels of, or different stages, in the works, right? So the a l U has tried, um, to, to hold other N L R B elections at other Amazon facilities. They’ve yet to win any of those. there are other efforts underway. So there’s a warehouse in North [00:21:00] Carolina, that’s being organized by a group that calls itself cause, whichstands for a way.
I wrote this down. I. Carolina Amazonians United for Solidarity and Empowerment. so their facility is in Garner, North Carolina, just out just outside of Raleigh, which is not where one would expect an Amazon effort to succeed. Um, you know, North Carolina has one of the lowest unionization rates.
In the country. but when you talk to the workers there, as I have, you know, they’ll tell you that. It sort of just happens organically, right?
Racism is a huge issue in this warehouse, which you’ll hear from Amazon workers at just about every warehouse. you know, it’ll often be a majority, non-white. Worker, population, and then management will be almost entirely white. at that’s the case at this facility. And that’s sort of organically led to certain kind of unrest in the warehouse that then led to this organizing effort that’s still underway.
they have not filed for an N L R B election. And then there are other efforts, you know, in kind of earlier [00:22:00] stages.
I think also just in closing it’s worth mentioning this warehouse in Minnesota. That has been kind of a, for a long time, the site of organizing by Somali workers in particular. and yeah, so that’s just a short list. I mean, it’s very funny that at this point my head is full of all of these incredibly indecipherable to anyone else.
Names of these warehouses. R D one, JFK eight. This is what Amazon calls its facilities, and now it’s, thank God the laundry list is getting really long. It used to just be JFK eight that I would talk about. but, so that’s what’s going on. as far as the warehouse, organizing.
Teddy Ostrow: Yeah. Thanks for going through so many of those, efforts. I mean, you know, there’s also Amazonians United, the international efforts to make Amazon Pay campaign.
Alex Press: yeah. And I, I did wanna say, Amazonians United has been this interesting, you know, effort that has, That preceded Bessemer, and continues to exist. And that’s a sort of minority unionism shop floor unionism, you know, where they don’t have the majority of the [00:23:00] workers, you know, involved.
And they’re not trying to build towards an NLRB election. They’re just functioning as a union on the shop floor. And they have actually notched some real victories around working conditions. That I think is, anybody who’s interested in this topic really should also, look into that because, you know, when it comes to Amazon, I often kind of explain to people.
There’s just a throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. You know, no unions up until these recent years have been able to breach the impenetrable fortress of Amazon. And so there are all different approaches going on, and while there’s real disagreements and you know, kind of, differences between these efforts, there is a sense in a larger kind of, meta view here.
That everyone is on the same page, that you just have to be willing to try some creativity, um, and that everyone kind of needs each other if anyone is gonna win at Amazon.
Teddy Ostrow: I think that’s a great perspective to bring. And now let’s, let’s dig into one of the efforts right now that is pretty unique, and exciting, [00:24:00] especially for teamsters.
So 84 Amazon drivers and dispatchers, just recently unionized with Teamsters, local 3 96, that’s out in Palmdale, California. And, uh, that of course was super welcome, really, really exciting for labor folks. but it, it’s not. An uncomplicated victory. this is because of something you hinted at the structure of Amazon’s last Mile Delivery Services, which poses barriers to unionization, certainly getting a contract.
Can you unpack, why this is such a big deal, but also why it’s more complex than one would hope such that this battle, of the teamsters in Amazon really is just getting started.
Alex Press: Yeah, so the most basic thing to mention is what I said at the top, which is these delivery drivers are legally, technically, not Amazon employees, which is absurd because as probably anyone listening to this show knows they drive in vehicles that are branded with [00:25:00] Amazon branding.
They often wear Amazon branded. Uniforms. but Amazon very cannelly set up this delivery service partner program, to give themselves distance from kind of the legal responsibilities of being an employer. so these workers have to petition their bosses, for redress on all kinds of things, and their bosses are usually these.
Small business owners who just started this company specifically to service Amazon, There are around 3000 of these companies nationwide, these delivery service partners or DSPs. and there are nearly, I think almost 300,000 drivers now who are driving for them at at least part and full-time.
so that means under US labor law right now until, and unless Amazon is declared a joint employer. So also having the legal responsibility to bargain with these workers. Right now, they have to petition, you know, just their small business, their D S P, which is what happened at that company, battle tested [00:26:00] strategies, in Palmdale.
And, you know, the interesting thing that I think people should know about this is that, you know, when the news came out that the, you know, not only had they. Organized a union, but the owner of b t s had given them voluntary recognition, you know, which is a sort of, while I think every boss should voluntarily recognize workers.
It’s pretty unusual these days in the United States. And it’s sort of displayed something that has since been kind of panned out in the reporting, which is that the, the owners of these DSPs often have just as many problems with Amazon as their workers. Um, you know, there have been cases of these. These companies, their owners, you know, shutting down their companies in protest against Amazon’s expectations for them.
You know, they work these drivers through the bone and it, you know, often they’re not lying when they say Amazon makes us do this. and so they have limited autonomy here. And it’s very funny in that, you know, if Amazon has set up this, this totally [00:27:00] arbitrary distance, um, to pretend that these drivers are not their workers, well, the owners of these companies are gonna realize that in fact, they too are just lower level managers for a workforce.
And so it’s no surprise that they might end up kind of tacitly supporting unionization. so anyway, just to keep it short here, What happened was the teamsters announced that these workers had unionized, that they had gotten recognition, and in fact, they have voted and accepted a tentative agreement, so they have a contract.
Amazon immediately came out and said, One, these are not our workers as laid out in the law. two, we actually already told this guy who runs this company that he’s gonna have his contract canceled, for failure, you know, poor for poor performance. Um, and this is just a kind of PR play on his part and on the teamsters part, that hasn’t been, we haven’t figured out yet.
No one has gotten the documents really about when the timeline of Amazon’s contract cancellation happened. You know, if it happened after Amazon became [00:28:00] aware of the union organizing, you know, you could make the case that that was a violation of labor law. So that’s all gonna play out in the courts. I think the b t s owner himself is now kind of going along with trying to sue Amazon.
it is worth noting though that that’s the complication is, you know, Unions specifically the Teamsters have tried this before and Amazon has just canceled the contract with that D S P, because they have the right to do that. and they do have total control over these DSPs. Um, you know, the owner of A D S P is always instructed to fight any union efforts.
Amazon, you know, kind of by every legal standing should be considered the employer, but they also, as it stands right now, Can simply retaliate by canceling a contract, effectively making these workers out of work, come the end of that contract. so we’ll see what happens. You know, I think it’s just worth noting as a last point on this, that the teamsters have kind of anticipated that this would happen.
so in May they did file a complaint with federal Labor re [00:29:00] regulators, um, saying that Amazon should be considered a joint or sole employer of the Palmdale workers.
I am not in the prediction game, especially when it comes to extremely, untested unionization efforts at Amazon.
I think Sean O’Brien, um, and all of the rank and filers who are sort of leading this organizing at the ground level really understand that they need to find a way to break through at Amazon, even though the legal structure of these delivery.
Driver’s employment. You know, it makes for immense obstacles. so I’m very glad that they are, again, throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks.
Teddy Ostrow: Well, I certainly won’t ask you to look into the legal crystal ball here, but, um, Yeah. I think it’s also worth just noting that while there is this complex, complicated barrier to, for these workers, uh, what they want in their contract, would be life changing, right?
Like, so $30 an hour, like right to refuse unsafe delivery, which is a serious problem across delivery [00:30:00] services. Um, a number of things, um, that they won’t. We will see if they’ll get it. but it, it’s, it would be a real shift and including, uh, no, no strike clause. Right. Yeah. So this is somewhat, this is kind of transformational stuff,
Alex Press: uh, that implemented.
I just wanna add that another thing was like, I. When you talk to those Palmdale drivers, like a key kind of impetus for the organizing was that just like Amazon warehouse workers, just like u p s drivers, heat on the job was becoming incredibly unsafe. they’ll say that one of these workers, I think last summer passed out and had to be taken to the hospital.
That it’s, you know, I think I read a quote from someone in the bargaining unit who said, it’s like being in Asana. You know, just, it’s completely unbearable. This has also, you know, led workers to organize across industries and, you know, these are very serious issues that Amazon certainly has proven it is not taking seriously and cannot be trusted to take seriously.
[00:31:00] I know u p s workers similarly have been agitating not only for u p s to be responsible, for regulating the temperatures both in the vehicles and in the, the buildings, but, you know, this is. I, the Amazon warehouse workers that I talked about earlier, often, that’s also a leading thing. You know, they want higher wages, they want better benefits and better schedules.
they want less unsafe work in the sense of. Less of a strenuous quota on them, but they also often are passing out in these warehouses or having heat stroke. And so this is again, a unifying kind of issue across the industry. Um, no matter what type of logistics work you’re doing with rising temperatures, especially a summer approaches, you know, this becomes something that is not so hard to under, um, to understand for anyone who works these jobs.
Teddy Ostrow: let’s bring in the Teamsters Up s contract campaign.
Mm-hmm. Uh, you wrote a great piece about it in Jack bin, uh, that I encourage everyone to read. And you, you noted how [00:32:00] organizing Amazon as well as negotiating a better UPS contract, um, Was central to Teamsters United, uh, Sean O’Brien’s bid to the Teamsters general presidency. And I wanna try to thread these goals together.
What, what are the stakes of this contract campaign for the unionization of Amazon? And then what are the stakes of unionizing Amazon for the future of the Teamsters Union? Um, And, you know, the greater working
Alex Press: Sure, sure. so it sounds complicated, but it really is not. Right. So when you walk up, say you’re a U p S driver and you walk up to, whether it’s an Amazon warehouse worker who lives on your block or it’s an Amazon delivery driver who is parked outside of the same apartment building as you.
And so you start chatting about unions, they’re gonna say, well, how’s your union contract? Like, why, what do you get? you know, not to to pretend that workers are only interested in that, but of course that’s what they want to know. and you know, I think it’s not a secret that [00:33:00] the teamsters negotiated a very weak contract, in the last round of negotiations.
So weak that it ended. Hoffa Jr’s career and led to Sean O’Brien becoming the President of the Union. Um, and so, you know, and it has tears. It has all these things that you’ve talked about on the show before. and so that is not something a worker can confidently approach an Amazon worker with and try to, you know, convince them that their union is, has their back, will never sell them out, we’ll never abandon them, um, and is democratic.
None of those things were true in that last contract. It was in fact, You know, a democratic vote was overridden by arcane union bureaucracy rules, you know, the classic kind of worst version of unionism. and so it’s very important that Sean, you know, can go out there and actually win a strong contract.
you know, pay for part-timers will be part of that because Amazon workers are often part-time and they’re going to have more in common with the inside workers at up s than they, you know, might have with the ups. Drivers, you know, as far as the direct Amazon [00:34:00] warehouse workers. but similarly the delivery drivers at both companies.
You know, there needs to be this sense of victory that’s very rooted in real progress, including undoing concessions. So that’s on the one side, very practically, it’s just you can’t. It, it’s almost like suicide to go tell your rank and file organizers, your kind of best union militants to go pretend to another worker that you have a great contract when in fact they’re the ones who are most certain that they don’t have good contract.
so that is existential. And then on the flip side, you know, it’s, If, you know, if I, I think I’ve kind of laid this out earlier of what does organizing Amazon do for u p s workers? Well, as I said, if they don’t organize Amazon warehouse workers and delivery drivers soon, they may just not exist as a union.
I mean, that’s like catastrophism that I’m saying. But Amazon has so much power and is, has so much growth and so much political control as well. I mean, with the lobbying arm and the tax. Breaks that they get, and the sort of [00:35:00] influential people in their realm. it’s hard to imagine how the u p s.
U like the bargaining unit stays together going forward. They will be chipped away at every single contract round with U P s executives saying through their lawyers across the table, we can’t do it because there’s Amazon workers, you know, that are, they’re gonna undercut our business and they’re gonna take our business and we’re gonna go out of business unless you agree to concessions.
So these things are incredibly tied up with each other, and I think Sean O’Brien did a very good job of laying that out throughout his campaign. And my understanding from speaking with the UPS workers who lead this Amazon organizing, you know, sort of behind the scenes and on the ground, is that they really do feel like they’re being charged with trying a.
What they can to sort of organize certain facilities to support things at legislative levels that gives a little more power to workers, makes it a little easier, to actually organize them in the first place. and so, you know, my hope is that [00:36:00] that vision continues to stay kind of connected in that integrated way, that it was laid out during the campaign.
Teddy Ostrow: And while I have you, uh, the, the Amazon guru of labor journalism, is there anything else that we didn’t touch on on Amazon that you think is really important for, the Teamsters listening for non Teamsters listening? Anybody out there?
Alex Press: Yeah, I mean, I think this is, I’m sure it’s been said on your show before if Amazon has come up, but you know, as I tried to say, there are very different efforts going on among Amazon workers, right?
There has been, you know, formal organizing with R W D S U in Bessemer, and with the teamsters, both among warehouses, workers and delivery drivers. There has been minority unionism like Amazonians United. There’s been independent use unionism like cause in North Carolina or the A L U. And again, like there are real tensions of course, and some of that comes from these workers fueling.
As they would say to me [00:37:00] before any of these efforts started many years ago, they would say, our working conditions are so terrible. This work is so dangerous and detrimental to our bodies, and the pay is so low. Why aren’t unions helping us? You know, there was a real sense of like, Kind of loss or betrayal or just confusion about, you know, isn’t the labor movement supposed to be here for us?
And so it’s very hard to just immediately undo that distrust. but I think I’ve seen, just in the course of my short five years since that opening anecdote about the Labor Notes Conference, there have been real ties being built across these efforts, across these divisions of strategy. and I just think u p s workers, everyone I’ve spoke to already understands this, but I just wanna underline it, that like, Everyone needs each other if anyone is gonna win, right?
Whether a teamster’s organized warehouse down the line is gonna win, whether the a l u is ever gonna win a contract, it requires every single person on this, in this broader kind of ecosystem of organizing logistics to have each other’s backs.[00:38:00] Despite, and even with those differences. Um, and so that’s really the thing I try to say to people, you know, often I think people outside of the labor movement or outside of, you know, the left, want to play up the divisions and say like, so do these people hate the teamsters?
Do these people hate the A L U? And it’s like, it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, everyone has each other’s phone numbers and they need each other. and so that is kind of the perspective I try to take. And I certainly would hope u p s workers. Would take that kind of bigger view, whether it’s about organizing or about the fact that Amazon workers seem to undercut their job standards.
You know, everybody has the same enemies here. In fact, their enemies are like friends who hang out at dinners in dc um, the c e o of one company or the other. and I just, I never want people to lose sight of that.
Teddy Ostrow: Alex Press, thanks for joining me on the upsurge.
Alex Press: Thanks for having me.
Teddy Ostrow: Arturo Sono, welcome to the upsurge. [00:39:00] Thank you for having me. So to start off, I just wanna hear about you, you know, tell, tell everybody about yourself. How do you come to the job, what exactly you do, how long you’ve been doing it, uh, and where you are. Uh, right now
Arturo Solezano: I live in Port, California.
I have a fiance, a baby on the way in August, it’s gonna be a girl. We trying to find a big future together. You know, I got through Amazon, Before I battle tested, I was actually at a fulfillment center, but the drive was too far from me and
Teddy Ostrow: this was a lot closer. And so you’re a driver. How long have you been doing that?
Arturo Solezano: two and a half years now.
Teddy Ostrow: And what, what exactly does that entail? Can you kind of explain like on a day-to-day basis, uh, what do you do?
Arturo Solezano: So, in the mornings We’re supposed to have a stand [00:40:00] a meeting, but we really, it’s only once in a while, we grab our pouches, we check the vehicles, make sure there’s like no nails, nothing damage, line up load of our vans and go get gas if we need to, and then just start
Teddy Ostrow: our routes.
So it’s very similar, to what perhaps a, a number of other, so-called last mile delivery drivers do, like at FedEx, like at ups, uh, you pick up the packages, you drop ’em off at people’s homes as I take it. Yes. So I, I’m curious, you know, around the country, we’ve been hearing a lot about some of the issues that drivers at Amazon deal with.
Some of them are pretty similar to the issues at U P s, listeners of this show certainly know about those. maybe you could get into some of those issues, that you and your coworkers have with the workplace.
Arturo Solezano: Uh, in the summertime. [00:41:00] Those, those, they feel like saunas and they don’t have ac so all day we’re just sweating and being dehydrated and the sun is so much in like two water bottles can douch for us, but we, and then they get mad at us if we are trying to take our breaks cause. It’s just hot, you know, we’re trying to recover.
I had her friend who actually had to go to the hospital cause she over, um, overheated. But thank God now she’s, you know, she’s safe. But she had to leave the job because it
Teddy Ostrow: was just too dangerous for her. Wow. So you, you guys don’t have air conditioning at, at all, or they, it doesn’t function or, and you guys have to deal with that on
Arturo Solezano: some fence.
The air condition is supposed to work, but it is very like light. And then we have like just the little fans, regular fans, but they just throw hot air.
Teddy Ostrow: Do you feel unsafe when you’re doing this and [00:42:00] you’re in Southern California, right? So I assume it gets ridiculously hot. Mm-hmm.
Arturo Solezano: Yeah. So it, I try to, whenever I can just try to find somewhere where she, uh, I’ll be behind, uh, sometimes, but I’m trying to protect myself first.
Teddy Ostrow: And have you ever, you know, told your employer like, Hey, look, it’s, it’s too hot out here. What, what kind of responses do you get? Or is it not even worth going that far?
Arturo Solezano: we told ’em and they told us like, Amazons are the ones that can cut the routes, but they really don’t. If anything, they may take like 10 stops and that’s nothing.
You know, you get a hundred, 200 stops. You know, one 90 stop is not gonna do anything and we’re out there in the sun. Sometimes the, the temperature would read 1 30, 1 40 even. We had customers that come out there and look at us and they [00:43:00] feel so bad they’ll rush back inside their house and get those ice and stuff.
Cause they see how bad it is.
Teddy Ostrow: Wow. And that isn’t, that’s, I mean, that’s a major safety issue as I understand it, that that isn’t the only safety issue you guys have, right? Mm-hmm. I heard something about dogs, um, I’m sure a lot of delivery drivers deal with that. Can, can you tell me about some of those other issues that have to do with your safety?
Arturo Solezano: Uh, yeah. I actually got bited by the dog once, um, it was hiding underneath the step van, and as soon as I was stepping in, I just grabbed him by the ankle, pulled me. And it was a stray dog. Uh, but there was other houses and none of them cleaned. So I ended up getting handed to get a clean shot. Wow.
Teddy Ostrow: Uh, and do you ever feel like that might happen again?
That you, you see a dog in a yard and, you know,
Arturo Solezano: feel like you’re not able? Yeah, so now I [00:44:00] can’t, I don’t even feel safe to go into people’s yards to drop off their packages. And sometimes they’ll order like heavy things and I don’t like to leave it on the sidewalk, you know? And I’ll call ’em and I’ll wait.
But eventually I can’t stay there forever Cause Amazon is tracking my movement. They said you gotta do, you know, certain amount by this time.
Teddy Ostrow: And you know, UPSers for example, they can, if it seems like it’s unsafe, they’re generally allowed to say like, Hey, this is an unsafe delivery.
I’m not gonna make this delivery. what would happen if you told, uh, your employer that, Hey, this is too, this is too risky for me. They,
Arturo Solezano: they’d rather have us, uh, try to risk it. And deliver it anyway, cuz Amazon just try, tries to analyze us and then we end up losing days, you know, hours. And that’s money that we need to provide our families.
Teddy Ostrow: Speaking of money, um, [00:45:00] there, the pay I’ve heard is, is, is an issue. Um, can you talk, can you talk about that? Maybe your, your personal experience, but also those of your coworkers. What, what is the pay like at Amazon? Is it enough, um, uh, where you are?
Arturo Solezano: No, we feel like we’re getting underpaid. We should be unpaid.
At least the same as, as, uh, ups they get 40 or 30. Yeah, I’m not really sure, but we feel like we should get somewhere similar cause we’re doing the exact same thing as them. And we’re do, and our conditions are probably a lot less, uh, safe than theirs.
Teddy Ostrow: And what is it like to not get enough money? I mean, you, you live in Southern California.
I can imagine the cost of living is high, where you are. Um, what does it mean to not make the same as other drivers for you? You mentioned you have a, a fiance and, and [00:46:00] child on the way.
Arturo Solezano: Yeah, like, um, like on the side, I have to donate my plasma to make the extra money for anything that. I can’t cover with my, Hey, it’s all my days off.
I have to go do something to make sure I have that money for us to make sure we can’t get by.
Teddy Ostrow: Now, the the last thing I wanted to touch on, just because it, it seems like such a major issue, not only, um, among delivery drivers, but, but in the warehouse too. Um. Is like these performance requirements that at times seem really extreme, seems to loop into the, the safety issues them saying you can’t not deliver.
Can you talk about, uh, the pressure on you guys, and how Amazon is, tracking you and wanting you to perform at a pace that is probably unsafe?
Arturo Solezano: yeah. So Amazon tracks our [00:47:00] system through their van. And in our package count and they’ll see, hey, we only done certain amount at this time. Uh, let ask them and ask them why they’re behind cuz they need to catch up.
And when I tell ’em, you know, we gotta wait for this, we gotta do that. Apartments, sometimes it takes forever to get in. Customers don’t wanna come out to get their packages cause their dogs are outside and they, they get mad at us and then we end up having to skip our breaks and stuff. Because we have to go and try to catch up.
Teddy Ostrow: have people been disciplined or, or fired or cut? what kind of, uh, retaliation do you see?
Arturo Solezano: a couple of my friends have been let go. A lot of people have been cut their hours. They just like to monitor every little thing with us. they actually let go of someone.
It wasn’t, uh, our, the BTS people, it was Amazon that let [00:48:00] go one of our workers instead. Like they just denied on their flex thing. But I don’t know that much details about it.
Teddy Ostrow: Well, I’m glad you brought up that it was Amazon doing this. Um, So, you know, you, as I understand it, you drive a, an Amazon truck and you wear an Amazon uniform.
Uh, and it seems like Amazon has a lot of control over your employment, but, but technically you don’t work for Amazon. I’m curious, what do you think about that? Is, is Amazon not really in control of you, or are they, who, who do you really work for?
Arturo Solezano: Mm, it’s even though it says, they say we’re not, We really are.
Cause they get mad at us if we don’t wear their Amazon uniform. If, but yeah, like the people inside the fact, inside the building, they wear like their pajamas and whatever they want. But if we get something like that, wear different color shorts or jeans or something, they get, they [00:49:00] send us home. Even though we’re like, we’re not really Amazon though.
But yet you’re still trying to send us home for not being with you guys.
Teddy Ostrow: so we, we, we actually have you on the show because you and, and your coworkers did something really exciting that everyone seems to be cheering you on for, um, rightfully, uh, you unionized, uh, your D S P or delivery service provider.
It’s called battle tested strategies. You guys unionized with the Teamsters Local 3 96. Um, You know, that’s, that’s kind of a brave thing to do. I’m, I’m curious, why, why did you guys want to unionize with the teamsters?
Arturo Solezano: We just wanted our fair pay and everything, you know, and safety with this job. Cause, you know, being in those vans, it’s just extremely, it’s just there, just very hot. Like Asana. Um, they, I doing this just cause I wanna be able to provide for my family. You know, my little daughter is on her way. [00:50:00] I wanna make sure she’s taken care of growing up.
Teddy Ostrow: I feel
Arturo Solezano: like they’re the ones that are actually trying, that are actually looking out for me. They’re the ones that have my back a lot more than Amazon ever did.
Teddy Ostrow: Have you noticed any sort of, retaliation from Amazon since you guys, joined up with Local 3 96?
Arturo Solezano: uh, yeah. Actually the very first day they grounded my van for something so small that, and it was a easy fix, but it took him an hour to clear it. And one of the Amazon people actually came up to me.
kind of like talked to me like, oh, are you gonna be able to finish a route? I’m like, dude, we’re still working. You know, why? Why do you think we’re here? Of course I can deal with my route. It’s gonna take me a little longer now cause you guys are making me wait more, but I could still get it done.
Teddy Ostrow: And you think this has something to do with [00:51:00] organizing?
Arturo Solezano: Cause now they’re like picking, they’re picking with every little thing they can with us, with our vans. They’re, they’re cutting down our routes. sometimes they’re very hostile towards us, and we’re just like, yo, we’re just here just to do our jobs too. Why you guys even being hostile towards.
Teddy Ostrow: yeah. So, uh, you guys, you guys not only unionize, but you want a union contract and a, as far as I understand, you want some pretty transformational stuff.
So some of it may not be enforceable yet, but nonetheless, can, can you talk about some of the things you guys won, in this contract? Yeah,
Arturo Solezano: we fought for advance, so they’re now more safer for us. we’re able to refuse, uh, deliveries that are actually, you know, unsafe that we can’t do. and we’re fighting for a bigger race.
Teddy Ostrow: How, how much money do you guys win? I, I, it’s, it’s pretty [00:52:00] high, right? It’s, uh, $30 a hour. Is that gonna make a difference for you? Yeah,
Arturo Solezano: it’ll help me out so much to provide for my family.
Teddy Ostrow: I’m, one thing I’m curious about is, uh, How you’ve interacted with other delivery drivers or other delivery, uh, or other logistics companies like ups.
Uh, have you interacted with any UPSers?
Arturo Solezano: Uh, yes. Uh, some of them actually come and help us pick it. Uh, I see, I’ll see someone my delivery route and they’ll say, Hey. Welcome to the Union brother. You know, congrats.
You know, this is what
Teddy Ostrow: we’re here for.
Arturo Sono, thanks for joining me on the Thank you. Yeah, have a good
Arturo Solezano: one.
You just listened to episode 8 of The Upsurge.
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