Illinois Amazon Drivers Just Went on Strike for a Contract

This week, Amazon drivers organized with the Teamsters in Skokie, Illinois, went on strike over the company’s violations of labor law. The workers are demanding Amazon recognize and bargain with their union.

Striking Amazon drivers walk the picket line in Skokie, Illinois, on June 26, 2024. (Teamsters / X)

Amazon drivers at the DIL7 delivery station in Skokie, Illinois, struck on June 26 over the company’s violations of federal labor laws.

A hundred drivers have organized with Teamsters Local 705 and are demanding that Amazon recognize and bargain with their union, after presenting cards signed by a majority of the workforce.

They’re nominally employed by a contractor, Four Star Express Delivery. But “every Amazon driver knows who our true employer is,” said driver Luke Cianciotto in a union statement. “We wear their uniforms and drive their trucks.”

Four Star Express is one of 2,500 “delivery service partners” (DSPs) that carry out package deliveries while Amazon retains full control. Amazon terminated the DSP’s contract on June 25, after giving workers two weeks’ notice.

The Teamsters allege this termination was illegal retaliation against the workers, who had already reached a majority on union cards. The workers marched on management on June 20 to demand recognition.

Last year Amazon terminated the contract of another DSP, Battle-Tested Strategies (BTS) in Palmdale, California, after eighty-four drivers organized with the Teamsters. BTS voluntarily recognized the union and agreed to a contract that would hike wages to $30 an hour, compared to the $19.75 drivers were earning before.

Since then, Amazon Teamsters have extended picket lines to thirty Amazon warehouses around the country and filed multiple unfair labor practice charges, which are still pending.

“Amazon wants to have it both ways: total operational control but no employment responsibility,” employment scholar David Weil told us last year. “Can they benefit from a contractor that operates as an extension of Amazon but not be held responsible?”

“Unforeseeable Action”

Jerry Maros, the owner of Four Star Express Delivery, told Ebony Echevarria and her coworkers on June 11 that he was closing shop and retiring because of health issues.

“That was a lie,” said Echevarria. In her role as “leadership manager,” she would be in meetings with the DSP owner — in addition to driving for Amazon — though she didn’t have oversight over anything.

“They just say ‘leadership manager’ to keep it extremely vague,” she said, “so they can ask you to do more than what your job description says. But they don’t want any power behind that managerial position.”

The power rested with her joint employers: Amazon and Maros. “I was in managerial meetings at the end of last May where we talked about how we had to hire ten people a week,” she said, “how Amazon was going to double our output in July, how we got between ten and twenty new rental vans refurbished.”

In a June 11 letter to workers shared with us, Maros provided a different rationale for the permanent closure. “We only learned of the need for this action, from our principal client, in the last three business days,” he wrote. “This was unforeseeable — it was simply not possible for us to provide more advance notice of this action.”

The unforeseeable action that had prompted Amazon to retaliate was workers organizing with the Teamsters.

“Real Drivers Don’t Look Happy”

Michael Daddio started working for the DSP two years ago. Initially he was a driver, earning $17.50 an hour; then he moved up to fleet manager, making $23.

Daddio has a mind for fixing cars, and he started raising safety issues about the fleet of 2019 Ram ProMaster vans. “I actually crawled down under the van, and saw this bracket that holds this sidestepping should take six bolts while they’re only using two,” he said, “and not even straight into the subframe of the vehicle.”

Heat hazards were another concern. “On summer days, if it’s ninety-five degrees outside, while you’re looking through eighteen totes and thirty overflow bags on the back of that truck, it could be 110 degrees at any given time of the day,” Daddio said.

“I think it’s important for the public to understand that the faces they see on these Amazon ads are all models,” Echevarria said. “It’s not a company that uses their real drivers, because the real drivers do not look happy.

“We’re out here delivering hundreds of packages a day, whether it’s in negative degrees, whether it’s in high heat, in vehicles that are not safe. You do not want to be on the road next to us.”

She started talking with union postal workers, UPS Teamsters, and bus drivers about their working conditions. “I’m on the road all day, and I’m talking to other drivers on the road,” she said. “I’m saying, ‘You have a delivery job, what’s it like for you?’ I take the bus every day; I’m talking to CTA [Chicago Transit Authority].”

What she found out: “They’re able to perform their jobs safely,” she said. “And if there’s an issue, then there’s actually someone to go to with it.”

Almost Management

“This started at my kitchen table,” Daddio said. He and Cianciotto were hanging out one day and started talking about the concerns they saw other drivers expressing over and over in social media posts and YouTube videos.

“So I started to see we all go through the same things here in this company,” he said. “You know, even though we’ve never met these people or crossed paths, they’re going through the same stuff.”

Daddio had been promoted to fleet manager because he was good at his job. He would do “rescues,” meaning drive out to meet other drivers when their vans broke down mid-route or they fell behind on deliveries. Using his mechanical skills, he started fixing up the banged-up vans.

All these qualities could have made him cozy up to management — but the indignities of the job pushed him to stand with his coworkers instead.

In Amazon warehouses, there’s a similar dynamic for process assistants, a training role adjacent to management, where workers have access to their coworkers in a peer-to-peer training capacity. Workers can use these roles to get on the management track, but when they get passed over for promotions and grow resentful, they can become key organizers in union drives, especially if they are long-term employees.

“I was very close to the DSP owner. But the thing is, at the end of the day, I am for the people,” Daddio said. “What really did it for me was just being there so long and getting to that point where I am almost management. I got to see a lot more of what goes on behind closed doors and I got to see how many people get let go for basically nothing — people unfairly getting fired where if we were unionized, it would be a lot tougher to do that.”

He took note when Amazon delivery workers organized in California, and when UPS Teamsters won a record contract increasing drivers’ top pay to $49 an hour.

Meanwhile at DIL7, workers couldn’t eke out a living because they were struggling to make forty hours.

“When you first get initially hired, you get brought on under the impression that these are ten-hour days, four days a week,” Daddio said. “Come to find out you’re working five days a week. And if you’re a fast driver, you’re finishing five, six hours every day. You don’t even touch forty.”

Multiple Organizing Fronts

Pressure is building on Amazon. According to a letter signed by thirty-four senators, the company lied to lawmakers about its labor practices at DSPs. The senators cited investigations by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, pointing to a clear joint-employer relationship.

That’s due to the control Amazon exerts over its drivers, the American Prospect reported, including its hiring practices, on-site conditions, no-poach agreements, placing surveillance cameras in the vans, and making drivers agree to biometric surveillance.

Until recently, the closest the Teamsters had come to establishing a beachhead at Amazon was in 2017, when forty-six workers at Silverstar Delivery, a DSP in Downriver Detroit, unionized with Local 337.

It was a pyrrhic victory. Following the union election, the DSP began illegally firing workers, and Amazon later canceled Silverstar’s Michigan contract.

But now the Teamsters have the only unionized Amazon warehouse in the United States. Workers at the hulking JFK8 fulfillment center on Staten Island, New York, who won their election to form the independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU) two years ago, voted on June 18 to affiliate with the Teamsters.

Five thousand workers there will be members of newly chartered Amazon Labor Union–International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 1. Soon they will vote on new union leadership.

More than four thousand workers at the air cargo hub KCVG in Northern Kentucky, who had begun a card drive with ALU, voted in April to affiliate with the Teamsters, though they have not yet won union recognition.

As Amazon workers come under the Teamsters tent, they’re coordinating across facilities. Workers marched on management across five locations in Staten Island, the Bronx, Queens, and the Hudson Valley demanding $25 an hour and Juneteenth as a paid holiday. They gathered more than six hundred signatures on their petition.

“We all have this opportunity to have the same lifestyle as UPS drivers, USPS drivers,” Echevarria said, “where we can send our kids to college, we can buy a house, we can feel comfortable. But the issue is that we’re doing the same work without the same respect. And the reason why that’s happening is Amazon.”