Some Amazon drivers have had enough. Can they unite?

In a statement, an Amazon spokesman said: “We are proud to empower more than 2,000 delivery service partners across the country – small businesses that create thousands more jobs and provide an excellent work environment with a payout of at least $ 15 per hour, health care benefits and paid leisure time. ”

Amazon launched the DSP program in 2018 as part of an effort to gain more control over its shipping operations by bringing it internally. (But not also intern.) To help DSP owners start their businesses, Amazon offers assistance such as financing and negotiated rates on insurance and lease agreements. In turn, the company charges the overhead of employee maintenance, as well as liability for workplace accidents and violations. (As reported by BuzzFeed and ProPublica has shown that security issues are not hypothetical.)

According to some estimates, DSP profit margins become low by industry standards, which puts pressure on labor costs. By comparison, the Teamsters say the UPS drivers they represent include an average of $ 38 per hour plus benefits, including a pension. And since Amazon’s number of vans per partner is 40, no business can become too strong. Managers can united, but only on a fixed basis. If one DSP unites, Amazon has other options. “If one of them goes out of business and threatens to strike or demand more wages, then the ax must come down,” said Marc Wulfraat, president of MWPVL International, a logistics consulting firm that closely monitors Amazon. “They’re gone and bring in someone else.”

This is exactly what a group of Michigan drivers claimed in 2017. Employees of an Amazon contractor named Silverstar Delivery voted 22-7 to unite with the Teamsters. Less than a month later, several union supporters were fired. A few months later, the firm closed its location in Michigan. Workers have filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), claiming illegal retaliation. While the retaliation was rejected due to insufficient evidence, Silverstar repaid more than $ 15,000 as part of a settlement. Amazon avoided liability, arguing that it was not the driver’s joint employer. Shortly after the incident, according to a BuzzFeed report, the company held meetings with other DSP owners on how to avoid unions at their own businesses. No Amazon executives have since tried to vote a union.

Although the deck was wildly stacked in Amazon’s favor, there are precedents for the successful unification of a large workforce contracted below. In the 1980s, for example, multinational corporate building owners began to outsource homework to subcontractors. Cleaners saw their wages and benefits broken down and wanted union protection. Over a period of years, they launched a series of increasing marches and demonstrations nationwide under the rally ‘Justice for Housekeepers’.

Instead of putting pressure on the relatively powerless subcontractors, organizers have focused on the main contractor – in that case the building owners, says Chris Rhomberg, a professor of sociology at Fordham University who conducts research on strikes. “They built solidarity so that they could push the main contractor and say, ‘You have to put enough money out there so that your subcontractors can pay a decent wage.’ ‘Only when everyone is in line do they go to the union election with all the subcontractors. It finally worked. For some housekeepers, their payment and benefits double.

Activists also made gains with campaigns that did not necessarily end in unions. More recently, non-union fast food workers have focused on demonstrations to attract public attention and encourage lawmakers to raise the minimum wage. Since its inception, nine states plus DC have passed $ 15 minimum wage laws, and President Biden has voiced support. When the Fight for Fifteen movement began in 2012, Rhomberg says, “no one thought it had a chance.”

In the midst of the campaign, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) sought to establish McDonald’s as a joint employer, which could pave the way for holding the company accountable to the labor practices of its franchisees and possibly forcing them to negotiate. with any unions that have formed. In 2014, the NLRB of the Obama era joined the SEIU, expand the definition of a joint employer to include not only franchisees, but also companies that hire subcontractors, provided that the employer has the ability to exercise indirect control over the circumstances of the workers. The Trump administration reversed the rule, but in another burst just last week, Biden’s Department of Labor suggested return to a more comprehensive definition of joint employer, a proposal that is available for public comment until next month. Depending on the outcome, the new rule could affect not only chains like McDonald’s, but also Amazon’s DSP network.

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