Amazon Labor Union Looks Set to Affiliate With the Teamsters

This week, the Amazon Labor Union and the Teamsters announced an agreement to affiliate. If ratified, the agreement would charter a new New York City local, Amazon Labor Union No. 1, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Demonstrators during an Amazon Labor Union rally outside an Amazon warehouse in the Staten Island borough of New York, US, on April 11, 2023. (Paul Frangipane / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) and the Teamsters have signed an affiliation agreement.

“Today is an historical day for labor in America as we now combine forces with one of the most powerful unions to take on Amazon together,” wrote ALU President Chris Smalls on Twitter/X. “We’re putting Amazon on notice that we are coming!”

Smalls and Teamsters president Sean O’Brien signed the agreement on June 3, according to a copy I obtained.

The affiliation agreement charters a new local known as Amazon Labor Union No. 1, International Brotherhood of Teamsters (ALU-IBT Local 1) for the five boroughs of New York City. That may signal that Amazon workers will not be integrated into existing locals with other Teamster crafts.

The ALU is the fledgling independent union that sent shock waves through the labor movement two years ago when it won a landmark election to organize eight thousand workers at Amazon fulfillment center JFK8 on Staten Island, New York.

The Teamsters announced the affiliation in a tweet, saying the agreement had been approved unanimously by its board. The ALU’s rank and file hasn’t yet voted on it.

Surprise Announcement

The union’s reform caucus supports the affiliation, but was surprised that the Teamsters had announced the news publicly before rank-and-file members had voted.

“Ultimately, the agreement reflects what we would have wanted out of this process,” said Connor Spence, who’s running for president of the ALU and was one of the key organizers of the successful union drive at JFK8. “We would have liked a different timeline, namely holding the vote after the leadership elections, but we’re going to organize in support of the agreement either way.”

Leaders of the ALU Democratic Reform Caucus, including Connor Spence, Brima Sylla, Kathleen Cole, and Sultana Hossain, and current and former members of the ALU Executive Board, including Derrick Palmer, Gerald Bryson, Claudia Ashterman, and Arlene Kingston, met with O’Brien and other Teamster officials in Washington, DC, on May 20, after weeks of conversations about what an affiliation would involve.

Since its blockbuster win in 2022, ALU’s efforts to make inroads at other Amazon facilities have gone down in defeat. The union has also faltered in efforts to bring Amazon to the bargaining table.

These organizing failures gave rise to the caucus, which won the right to hold democratic elections for the union’s top spots.

As the ALU struggled to advance further at Amazon, workers at the air cargo hub KCVG in Northern Kentucky voted to affiliate with the Teamsters in April and will redo their ALU union affiliation cards. They made the decision after the tug and ramp workers at a nearby DHL facility joined the Teamsters and won a lucrative first contract in January.

Teamsters launched an Amazon Division last year to bring together various Amazon organizing efforts under one big tent.

“If we’re going to bring Amazon to the table, we need to build a national movement of Amazon workers who are strike-ready,” said Spence. “Trying to build that without some kind of institutional backing is a long shot.”

Amazon Teamsters have extended picket lines to other Amazon facilities after the Teamsters organized delivery drivers in Palmdale, California, last April. These eighty-four workers were nominally employed by an Amazon contractor, the Southern California company Battle-Tested Strategies — one of 2,500 “delivery service partners” that carry out package deliveries while Amazon retains full control.

Since then, more of the independent groups organizing at Amazon have worked with the Teamsters, hoping its backing can help them organize their own facilities.

New Elections

ALU will hold officer elections in July at the JFK8 facility. Eligible voters will include all current employees who are not seasonal workers. The affiliation agreement says the Teamsters “will provide resources to effectuate an internal election for ALU-IBT Local 1 in a manner so that potential officers may reach, with equal access, as many eligible members in JKF8 as possible.”

The internal election became possible only after the ALU’s reform caucus sued the union last year for violating the ALU’s constitution because it “refused to hold officer elections which should have been scheduled no later than March 2023.”

The ALU was supposed to hold elections within sicty days after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certified the union. But before the NLRB certification, the union’s leadership presented a new constitution to the membership, changing the time frame for officer elections to after the union ratified a contract with Amazon. The reform caucus asked a Brooklyn court to compel union leaders to hold an election.