Teamsters must take note of the danger on the horizon — Amazon is becoming an increasingly powerful player in retail, logistics, data and surveillance infrastructure, and other aspects of our economy. Why does this matter? Amazon is changing the nature of work in our country and touches many core Teamster industries such as parcel delivery, freight, airline, food distribution, and motion picture. This will undermine the quality of our contracts with union employers across multiple trade divisions. But it’s not too late to fight back and you can join the effort!
Most consumers know Amazon through its trustworthy Amazon Prime program. In fact, recent surveys ranked approval ratings for Amazon ahead of the U.S. government, local police, the media, public education institutions, and American labor unions. There are now over 150 million Amazon Prime members. Based on Amazon’s current growth rates, retail analysts predict that Amazon will capture 1 out of every ten retail dollars spent in 2020. It already captures one of every two dollars of all online retail sales. In 2019, Amazon had total revenues of $281 billion, nearly four times that of UPS ($74 billion).
While Amazon initially relied heavily on UPS, FedEx, and the USPS for package delivery, it now delivers more than half its packages. At the end of 2019, two-thirds of the U.S. population lived within a 45-minute drive of an Amazon last-mile delivery station. Between 2014 and 2019, the number of delivery stations grew from just 8 to at least 150. By the end of 2020, it is expected that Amazon will be operating out of 300 delivery stations. The company has touted that this number will soon balloon to more than 1,000, putting roots down in suburban communities across the country. It will soon be commonplace to see Amazon-branded step vans alongside UPS and FedEx on our streets. It has similar ambitions in the freight portions of its supply chain.
Beyond delivery, however, Amazon has attempted to break into the grocery industry with Amazon Fresh for years. That effort received a huge boost when Amazon purchased Whole Foods in 2017. Amazon Fresh’s growth will be driven by the company’s development of small micro-fulfillment centers. Micro-fulfillment centers are expected to disrupt the entire grocery distribution industry. Delivering groceries from online orders from central warehouses to their destination is more expensive compared to micro-fulfillment centers. Amazon’s micro-fulfillment centers will enable grocery stores to reduce costs, increase “efficiencies,” and shorten delivery times. As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, the broader public is more than willing to skip the trip to the grocery store. Will Amazon capture this market wholly in the future? It seems likely.
Those are just a few of the industries that Amazon has in its sights. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, and current CEO became the world’s richest man through a growth-at-all-cost mindset. Amazon’s dominance is incredibly daunting, given the serious damage it’s doing to more than one million Amazon workers and contractors under its banner. These workers experience exploitative working conditions such as wage theft, fraudulent classification, intense production quotas, a dehumanizing work environment, health & safety risks, low wages, high turnover, no voice on the job, lack of job security, and outsourced jobs.
A 2018 report by The Economic Roundtable reports that in Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, and San Bernardino counties, 62 percent of Amazon warehouse workers and their families receive public assistance benefits. A majority of Amazon workers on full-time schedules received these benefits, proving that long hours alone were not enough to get by.
It’s not just an empty wallet and bank accounts, but broken backs, too. Amazon’s records of injury and illness reveal that workers sustain serious injuries at rates twice as high as the average for other warehouses. Amazon workers suffered the most severe injuries—those that required them to be moved to light-duty or miss work—at rates five times the national average for all of the private industry.
The indirect subsidies brought on by low wages (as well as the large amounts of direct subsidies that municipalities send to Amazon in exchange for warehouses) means less money for the vital public services enjoyed by residents in our neighborhoods. It means that communities across our country become less dynamic, less prosperous, and as broken as Amazon leaves so many of its workers.
Teamsters across Joint Council 42 should be heartened by the fact that this organization is the first across the International to act on Amazon’s creeping power. In 2018, Joint Council 42 passed a resolution creating a coordinated effort by the local unions to deal with Amazon. With training already underway, we need members aware of the threats Amazon poses in addition to regular communication and coordination. The fight to raise standards at Amazon starts with you, Teamsters!