Teamsters claim another breakthrough with Amazon in Southern California
Smart & Final Distribution Center in Riverside, California | Marina Chrissinger via Google Maps

RIVERSIDE, Calif. –The Teamsters’ organizing drive among Amazon drivers and other workers is speeding up in Southern California, with a second success there in the last two months and the third overall since February.

Those wins are important not just for the Teamsters, who have launched an all-out campaign to organize Amazon’s half-million-plus workers, but for labor as a whole. Amazon has become the nation’s low-pay, unsafe-conditions poster child. Unionization changes that scenario.

The win among 300 workers at the Smart & Final Distribution Center in Riverside comes on the heels of a victory shortly before. The 84 contract drivers at Battle Tested Strategies (BTS) in Palmdale won card check recognition, quickly reached a first collective bargaining agreement, and unanimously ratified it. They’re with Local 396. Enforcing their contract, though, is another matter.

BTS’s owner is apparently willing to work with the union, especially to keep Amazon’s business, since it’s the biggest customer of the last-mile delivery firm. Amazon higher-ups aren’t.

Before both victories, Commerce, Calif., Amazon distribution center workers went Teamsters in February, with Local 630, the Southern California Teamster reported. That local also won at Smart & Final.

Those Smart & Final warehouse workers, along with the DPS drivers, are part of the growing army of underpaid, exploited and mistreated workers from coast to coast who have had it up to here with corporate greed fattening itself off their labor. One chief hog is Jeff Bezos, the giant warehouse and delivery firm’s founder and chief stockholder, and one of the three richest people in the U.S.

That puts the Riverdale workers among repressed workers nationwide who choose among two paths to take against such exploitation: Unionize, or walk out to better-paying jobs with better treatment. Other groups of repressed and exploited workers are port truckers, fast food workers, retail workers, adjunct professors and airline cleaners and food service preparers.

An existential threat

The Teamsters recognize Amazon as, in the words of union President Sean O’Brien, “an existential threat” to their core trucking and warehousing businesses. They established a new division to organize Amazon, with a planned multi-million-dollar organizing budget for a multi-year campaign.

The 300 Riverside workers voted union by a 4-to-1 ratio, following the lead of their Commerce, Calif., colleagues, said Randy Cammack, Teamsters Joint Council 42 president. His council includes Local 630 and other locals in Southern California, Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada.

“I want to congratulate workers at Smart & Final in Riverside for taking a courageous stand and flexing their collective muscle to elect Local 630 as their representative,” added Local 630 Secretary-Treasurer Lou Villalvazo.

“These workers chose to stand in unity with their sisters and brothers in Commerce. Now it’s time for Smart & Final to respect their voices by negotiating a fair contract.”

Over at Local 396, the new contact for the 84 BTS drivers gives them a big boost, the Southern California Teamster reported.

At that firm, “brave employees have been overworked, underpaid, and struggling with abysmal working conditions, typical for Amazon’s last-mile subcontractor operations,” the paper said. Local 396 Secretary-Treasurer Victor Mineros said BTS workers “are taking on the largest logistics company in the world to demand safe jobs and fair pay.”

Another key issue is protection from heat in their high desert area of operations. “The workers are now ready for a fight that strikes at the heart of Amazon’s sham contracting system,” the paper added. And in May the council and the local filed an unfair labor practices charge against Amazon for unlawfully threatening workers’ jobs and failing to recognize and bargain with the union over working conditions, said Randy Korgan, the Teamsters’ Amazon Division Director.

Amazon also cut the workers’ hours and continued “mandatory captive audience meetings where workers were forced to listen to anti-union rhetoric,” plus Amazon’s “threat to terminate the BTS contract.” That produced another unfair labor practices charge—and a demand the National Labor Relations Board seek an immediate court injunction to keep Amazon’s BTS contract in place.

O’Brien, union Secretary-Treasurer Fred Zuckerman and other leaders were concerned enough about the termination threat to meet with Cammack and other local leaders to work out donation plans, over and above their strike pay, to cover the costs those 84 workers would incur.

“This is us drawing a line in the sand in Joint Council 42 to effect real progress for a segment of Amazon workers,” Cammack said. “If not them, who? If not now, when? We’re putting our resources and commitment behind this group.”

Paul Mihalow is editor of the Southern California Teamster

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Paul Mihalow
Paul Mihalow

Paul Mihalow is the editor of the Southern California Teamster.

Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.