News & Commentary

June 16, 2023

Swap Agrawal

Swap Agrawal is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s news and commentary, Amazon delivery drivers and dispatchers went on strike for the first time in the U.S.; New York City reached a tentative contract agreement for 32,000 uniformed city employees; and a Jacobin writer criticizes the cognitive dissonance in Barack Obama’s new Netflix series Working.

Yesterday, delivery drivers and dispatchers at Amazon’s delivery service partner Battle-Tested Strategies (BTS) went on strike. This is the first strike by Amazon drivers in the U.S. In April, BTS drivers organized a union with Teamsters Local 396. The company voluntarily recognized the drivers’ union and negotiated a first contract which includes significantly higher wages, just-cause provisions, paid holidays, protections from unsafe conditions, and prohibitions on discipline based solely on information collected by in-truck surveillance equipment. However, Amazon is refusing to come to the table, despite the union’s claims that it is in fact in “complete control” of BTS’s operations. The Teamsters filed an unfair labor practice charge (ULP) against Amazon in May alleging that retaliatory conduct against drivers, as well as outright refusing to bargain, were blatant violations of labor law. The charge states that, “Although these drivers wear Amazon uniforms, drive Amazon trucks, identify themselves as Amazon employees, are continuously monitored and surveilled by Amazon managers, and receive their work assignments from Amazon, Amazon has attempted to legally separate itself from these employees through a sham “Delivery Service Partner” (“DSP”) structure.”

Amazon drivers organized with the Teamsters over concerns for their safety in extreme temperatures, which regularly exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit during Palmdale summers. “The back of an Amazon van feels like an oven in the summer,” said Cecilia Porter, a striking driver. “I’ve felt dizzy and dehydrated, but if I take a break, I’ll get a call asking why I’m behind on deliveries.” Another driver on strike, Raj Singh, previously told Motherboard about his experiences with driving in heat. “The vans we have—it’s a big metal container. In the extreme heat it can get upwards of 130, 135 degrees inside the van,” he said. “You feel like you’re just getting cooked back there. I go through 10-12 bottles of water a day, and I urinate once.” Earlier this week, the Teamsters also won a tentative agreement with UPS guaranteeing improved heat protections and air conditioning in trucks. However, the protections that BTS drivers won in their contract unfortunately may not last long. On April 14, around a week before the union went public on April 24, Amazon had moved to terminate the BTS’s contract. Both the Teamsters and BTS’s owner, Jonathan Ervin, say this was retaliatory conduct for unionization. “Under any standard applied by the Board, there is no question that Amazon is a single and/or joint employer with BTS,” the Teamsters’ ULP charge reads. “This means it is patently unlawful for Amazon to rid itself of these newly unionized employees.”

New York City announced Thursday that it reached a tentative contract agreement with the Uniformed Officers Coalition which includes 11 unions representing 32,000 members across the FDNY, NYPD, corrections, and sanitation departments. Mayor Eric Adams announced that the five-year deal will cost the city $4 billion and includes annual salary increases of between 3.25% to 4% over the next several years. “They went through a lot over the last few years, and we want to make sure that we are there for them and state that we support them and continue to stop the hemorrhaging of city employees and show the attractiveness of working in city government,” Adams said. The announcement comes just two days after Adams announced a tentative deal with the United Federation of Teachers.

Former President Barack Obama has a new four-part Netflix docuseries titled Working which premiered on May 17. Each episode looks at a different category of jobs: “Service Jobs,” “The Middle,” “Dream Jobs,” and “The Boss.” The first episode follows hotel housekeeper Elba, home care aide Randi, and delivery driver Carmen. Carmen discusses the difficulties of gig work, stating that, “It would be nice if you got at least minimum wage.” Jacobin writer Alex Press argues that the cognitive dissonance becomes “overwhelming” at this point because the gig economy was effectively created under President Obama’s administration. Uber was founded two months after Obama’s inauguration and Uber Eats was launched in 2014. Press argues that Obama’s failure to institute even relatively tame protections for workers, such as the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) which would have made it easier for employees to unionize, allowed gig companies to grow rapidly. She also notes that key Obama officials, such as David Plouffe, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager and a senior advisor to the president, joined Uber and Amazon and played a key role in the companies’ global lobbying efforts.

Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.