Teamsters-Amazon Labor Union merger looms
Amazon Labor Union members in Staten Island, N.Y., are preparing to vote this weekend on joining forces with the Teamsters. | Photo: Teamsters for a Democratic Union via X

DETROIT—A merger between the Teamsters and the independent Amazon Labor Union is looming on the horizon.

Teamsters President Sean O’Brien jumped the gun in early June by telling his executive council, meeting in D.C., that it was a done deal. Before, the Teamsters set up their own Amazon Department, with the explicit goal of crafting an organizing drive at the monster warehouse, retail, and delivery firm.

But the ALU, the bottom-up worker-organized union which broke through Amazon’s blockade to organize the 8,000-worker JFK8 warehouse on Staten Island, N.Y., must take the pact to its members before there’s a final decision. So O’Brien’s announcement was premature.

The ALU’s merger vote started in mid-June. In July, members will elect a new leadership team.

Connor Spence, until recently a worker at JFK8, and an ALU organizer, is challenging incumbent Chris Smalls for the presidency. Like Smalls, Spence supports the merger with the Teamsters, he tweeted. Amazon fired Spence in December on trumped-up charges—just as it previously did to Smalls.

“Exploring options for affiliation has long been part of our reform platform because we know full well that bringing Amazon to the table is a national fight, and JFK8 can’t do it alone. We’re beyond excited for this fresh start,” Spence tweeted.

Estimates of Amazon’s total workforce in the U.S. range from 800,000 to 1.1 million. One of the world’s richest men, Jeff Bezos, who is virulently anti-union, runs Amazon. The Teamsters view the company’s leadership as “an existential threat,” to use O’Brien’s words, to their core constituencies.

Only JFK8 and one small subcontractor trucking firm are unionized, so far. ALU plans to file union recognition cards elsewhere, including at warehouses near Los Angeles International Airport and in the Kansas City area. In an indication of Amazon’s hatred for unions, when the owner of that trucking subcontractor, in the L.A. area, stayed neutral during organizing, Amazon pulled his contract.

Working conditions are the key issue in other ALU organizing drives, just as they were in JFK8. There, Amazon fired Smalls for leading a lunchtime walkout at the height of the coronavirus peril in New York over Amazon’s refusal to tell workers when colleagues became ill—and thus possibly exposed them—or give out any further health information.

In the new campaigns, key workplace issues are low pay, long working hours in extreme conditions, discipline only for just cause, lack of protection against disabilities from occupational injuries, forcing pregnant workers to stand on their feet for hours against medical orders, and protected water and bathroom breaks.

Smalls and his allies, including Spence, struck back by founding ALU, almost literally on a shoestring.

Smalls, who signed the pact on behalf of his union, hailed it in a tweet. But others objected to its being rushed through before the ALU holds its own leadership vote.

“Today is a historical day for labor in America as we now combine forces with one of the most powerful unions to take on Amazon together. Our message is clear: We want a Contract and we want it Now. We’re putting Amazon on notice that we are coming! #Hotlaborsummer,” Smalls tweeted.

Before signing the tentative affiliation pact with the Teamsters, the ALU discussed affiliation with several other unions, including the Postal Workers (APWU) and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), a virtually autonomous UFCW sector.

RWDSU tried, twice, to organize the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. It lost the first time due to rampant and massive company labor law violations—so many that the National Labor Relations Board threw the results out and ordered a rerun. The rerun was inconclusive, with challenged ballots exceeding the margin of RWDSU’s loss.

Meanwhile, APWU is reportedly on the verge of organizing Amazon workers at a warehouse in Detroit. And Teamsters for a Democratic Union just claimed the Teamsters won at a big warehouse near the Louisville, Ky., airport.

The Teamsters would bring financial stability to the Amazon Labor Union while still giving it a wide degree of independence. Under O’Brien’s predecessor, Jim Hoffa, and much of the Hoffa-dominated board, that independence would not have occurred. O’Brien’s reform slate defeated Hoffa’s hand-picked successor in a one-Teamster-one-vote election in late 2020.

And while the Amazon Labor Union would become ALU/IBT Local 1, any other Amazon facility that employs more than 1,000 people would also get its own ALU/IBT local. “We can build ALU as its own democratic union within the Teamsters,” one ALU activist says.

We hope you appreciated this article. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all, but we need your help. Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader-supported. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, please support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today. Thank you!


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.