News & Commentary

September 3, 2021

Hannah Finnie

Hannah Finnie is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

A new piece by Vice details how the Teamsters Union has thwarted Amazon’s expansion efforts nationwide despite recent failures by the movement to unionize the Bessemer, Alabama Amazon warehouse earlier this year. The wins – such as getting Fort Wayne, Indiana to shoot down a $7.3 million tax break for Amazon – expose the Teamsters’ varied approach to taking on Amazon. They’ve engaged in union organizing, using antitrust law, and organizing within communities to educate people about the effects of Amazon’s workplace practices in a neighborhood.

In Fort Wayne, Indiana, as the Vice piece details, Amazon revealed it was building a fulfillment center alongside 1,000 new jobs. The city council returned a $16 million tax break to Amazon for constructing the center. However, when Amazon asked for a second tax break – this time for $7.3 million – the teamsters activated. They were able to successfully influence the city council to vote against the tax break – and to maintain their opposition even after Amazon came back to the table with a $0.50/hour raise.

Two companies that have also been inside large battles over workers’ rights – Lyft and Uber – are also at the center of another controversy. Local reporting found that during the Caldor Fire, which engulfed the Tahoe area of California, both Lyft and Uber’s prices surged, effectively price gouging their customers. SFGate found that Lyft charged $1,300 to $1,500 for an XL ride (a larger car) for a ride from a local resort to the airport as people were trying to evacuate. Uber and Lyft both say that once they realized what was happening, they turned off the automatic surging. Alongside this increase in prices for customers, Uber drivers’ wages in California have been decoupled from the prices of the rides. Instead, they’re paid for the time and distance it takes to complete the ride.

Finally, a number of extended benefits programs that were created during the COVID-19 crisis are set to expire even though the pandemic rages on. The pandemic emergency unemployment compensation (PEUC) program and the pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) program will both end this week on September 4. The early end of these programs by certain states, as previously noted here, found that more money was lost in decreased spending than gained in new income after the programs were cut off.

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