Teamsters’ new boss vows his strong union will ramp up pressure on Amazon and make its own efforts to unite the company after workers in New York They voted to form the first American union for the company.
In an interview with The Guardian, Sean O’Brien said regulation is vital Amazonasserting that the e-commerce company had a “total disrespect” for its workers and was putting downward pressure on standards for unionized warehouse workers and truck drivers across the United States.
“You’ve got an employer like Jeff Bezos taking a walk in space, and he’s beating up his workers so he can fund his trip,” said O’Brien, who was inaugurated as president of Teamsters on March 22. He confirmed that Amazon workers would benefit greatly from joining Teamsters, saying that Amazon drivers and warehouse workers are treated and paid much worse than their union counterparts at other companies.
“They are terrible, and they have no respect for the way they treat their employees,” O’Brien said of Amazon.
On Friday, the final vote count showed that Amazon workers on Staten Island Vote for union unification, 2,654 to Syndicate, 2,131 v. Another vote to organize workers in Alabama is in the balance. Amazon beat the union campaign by 118 votes, but the final tally awaits review of 416 opposition ballot papers.
O’Brien said he commends any organization that seeks to beat Amazon: “I commend anyone who tries to bully the schoolyard like Amazon does.”
The Federation of Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores is seeking a union for an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, while a new, independent union, the Amazon Workers Federation, is behind the organization at two Amazon facilities on Staten Island.
O’Brien said no union is in a better position than Teamsters to organize Amazon because his 1.3 million-member union has decades of experience forming unions and winning good contracts for warehouse workers and truck drivers. “This is the only union that has a track record of organizing workers in these industries,” O’Brien said.
He said the Teamsters need to regulate Amazon as a commitment to our “members” and “our biggest employers,” most notably United Parcel Service and DHL. Concerned that Amazon’s low salaries are undermining employers and Teamster contracts, O’Brien said he did not want Amazon to threaten the livelihoods of Teamsters or “lower the standards set by collective bargaining agreements.”
“We have to organize Amazon,” he said. “We have to have a plan ready. We have to implement that plan and not be afraid to change that plan if sometimes it doesn’t work. Even a world champion team doesn’t win all the time. Hopefully we can have a favorable win-loss ratio.”
Prior to winning a five-year term as Teamsters President, O’Brien headed a large team of local Teamsters in the Boston area for 15 years. He succeeded James P. Hoffa, who resigned after 23 years as Teamsters president.
“We Teamsters have the best resources available, not just financially” to unite Amazon, O’Brien said. “We have the ability to benefit from our members who work in the industry, who know the benefits of working under a collective bargaining agreement and we have dignity and respect in the workplace.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he added. “We have a plan to focus on the big metro cities,” he said, as the probability of winning the union elections would be greater. He said Teamsters will be running “unconventional campaigns” that include support for politicians and the broad community behind the unions. He stressed the importance of worker-to-worker regulation: “We need to take advantage of our best regulators: the members of our workers who work in these industries.”
Amazon officials say their company’s pay levels are competitive — $18 for a full-time worker in Staten Island and about $16 in Alabama. The company notes that its benefits, including health coverage, begin for full-time workers the day they join the company.
Amazon officials have repeatedly said they are committed to maintaining an environment in which its employees can thrive and feel valued and respected.
“The Biden administration “He did an amazing job for the unions that came right out of the gate,” O’Brien said. “Management that is not afraid to endorse unions is great.” He praised, in particular, the 2021 law backed by Biden that helped secure the pensions of millions of union members and retirees, including many staff members whose retirement plans were seriously underfunded.
O’Brien said labor unions and other unions need to do a much better job by explaining how unions can lift workers and the nation as a whole. He said many Americans view the Teamsters favorably despite The Irishman’s film about scandals within the Teamsters half a century ago. “During the worst pandemic we’ll ever face, people saw that we delivered packages, we moved trash, we delivered food and groceries,” O’Brien said. “We have proven our worth in providing goods and services to keep this country moving.”
He spoke at length about the importance of holding politicians accountable, especially when they fail to support workers and unions. “I can’t remember people’s birthdays. But I can remember the last person who cheated on me. This is how we will deal with those politicians who vote against us. We will turn people against you. We will campaign against you.”
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