Some Amazon pilots have had enough. Can they unionize?

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said, “We are proud to empower more than 2,000 delivery service partners across the country, small businesses that are creating thousands more jobs and providing a great working environment. work with wages of at least $ 15 an hour, health care benefits and paid time off. “

Amazon launched the DSP program in 2018 as part of an effort to better control its shipping operations by integrating them internally. (But no too much To help DSP owners start their businesses, Amazon offers assistance such as financing and negotiated rates on insurance and van rentals. In turn, the company relieves the overhead costs of retaining employees, as well as liability for accidents and violations in the workplace. (As reported by BuzzFeed and ProPublica has shown, the security concerns are far from hypothetical.)

According to a few estimatesDSP profit margins are low by industry standards, putting pressure on labor costs. By comparison, the Teamsters say the UPS drivers they represent earn an average of $ 38 an hour plus benefits, including a pension. And because Amazon limits the number of vans per partner to 40, no business can get too powerful. Conductors can unionize, but only company by company. If a DSP unites, Amazon has other options. “If one of them breaks down and starts threatening to strike or asks for more wages, then boom, the ax falls,” says Marc Wulfraat, president of MWPVL International, a logistics consultancy that monitors up close Amazon. “They left and they brought someone else.”

This is exactly what a group of Michigan drivers alleged in 2017. Employees of an Amazon entrepreneur named Silverstar Delivery voted 22-7 to unionize with the Teamsters. Less than a month later, several union activists were dismissed. A few months later, the company closed its Michigan site. The workers filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging unlawful retaliation. Although the retaliatory termination charge was dismissed due to insufficient evidence, Silverstar paid more than $ 15,000 in back wages as part of a settlement. Amazon shirked responsibility, arguing that it was not the drivers’ co-employer. Shortly after the incident, according to a BuzzFeed report, the company has held meetings with other DSP owners on how to avoid organizing campaigns in their own businesses. No Amazon driver has attempted to vote for a union since.

While the game seems largely in favor of Amazon, there is precedent for successfully organizing a large contract workforce. In the 1980s, for example, building owners of multinational companies began to outsource housekeeping work to subcontractors. Janitors have seen their wages and benefits cut and demanded union protections. Over a period of several years, they launched a series of walkouts and increasingly numerous protests across the country, under the rallying cry of “Justice for the janitors”.

Instead of pressuring the relatively powerless contractors, the organizers have targeted the prime contractor – in this case the owners of the buildings, says Chris Rhomberg, a sociology professor at Fordham University who studies labor strikes. . “They built solidarity so that they could put pressure on the project manager and say: ‘You have to invest enough money so that your subcontractors can pay a living wage.’ It was only after getting everyone lined up that they went to the union elections for all the subcontractors. It finally worked. For some janitors, their salary and benefits double.

Activists have also made gains with campaigns that did not necessarily end with union campaigns. More recently, non-union fast food workers have focused on protests to gain public attention and urge lawmakers to raise the minimum wage. Since their inception, nine states plus DC have passed $ 15 minimum wage laws and President Biden has expressed support. When the Fight for Fifteen movement started in 2012, says Rhomberg, “nobody thought it had a chance.”

In the midst of the campaign, the International Union of Service Employees (SEIU) sought to establish McDonald’s as a joint employer, which could have paved the way for corporate accountability for the labor practices of its franchisees and potentially force it to negotiate with any union formed. In 2014, the Obama-era NLRB sided with the SEIU, expansion the definition of a joint employer encompassing not only franchisors, but companies that hire subcontractors, provided that the employer has the capacity to exercise indirect control over the conditions of the workers. The Trump administration reversed the rule, but in another volley last week, Biden’s Labor Department offers revert to a broader definition of co-employer, a proposal open to public comment until next month. Depending on the outcome, the new rule could impact not only chains like McDonald’s, but Amazon’s DSP network as well.

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