The recent wave of strikes and protests outside Amazon facilities across the country has put the e-commerce giant’s labor practices in the spotlight. Approximately 60 Amazon delivery contractors have been picketing outside several warehouses, including the San Bernardino International Airport facility, demanding an end to what they label as “unfair labor practices”. The outcry, which started in Palmdale, California, has since spread to various parts of the country, leading to broader conversations about labor rights in the gig economy.
These drivers and dispatchers work for Battle Tested Strategies, a third-party delivery company out of Palmdale. Represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the 84-strong workforce is demanding $30 per hour wages, safe jobs, and recognition of their union rights. They’ve been providing services exclusively to Amazon for about three years. While not directly employed by Amazon, these workers don the company’s vests, drive its vans, and deliver solely Amazon packages.
However, their complaints go beyond compensation. Workers claim they are exposed to dangerous conditions on a regular basis. Cecilia Porter, a 33-year-old Amazon delivery driver for Battle Tested Strategies, has shared disturbing accounts of her experience on the job. She spoke of being chased and bitten by dogs, having to make deliveries to remote locations without access to bathrooms or food, and being sent out in the middle of the night to areas with no cell service. Complaints also extend to the vehicles themselves, with reports of air conditioners failing in the summer and heaters not working in the winter.
The drivers and dispatchers of Battle Tested Strategies officially unionized with Teamsters 396 in April and subsequently negotiated a contract. The contract sought to address low pay, guarantee safe equipment, protect drivers in extreme temperatures, and give workers the right to refuse unsafe deliveries.
However, the Teamsters allege that upon learning about the unionization, Amazon terminated its contract with Battle Tested Strategies and refuses to recognize the group or honor the contract. In a charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board, Teamsters claimed that Amazon eliminated routes from Battle Tested Strategies in retaliation against those who sought representation and shifted work to other non-unionized delivery service providers.
Meanwhile, Amazon has pointed to six contract breaches as the reason for ending its relationship with Battle Tested Strategies. The breaches allegedly included instances of failing to pay service providers, grounding policy violations, and vehicle inspection checklist violations.
On a broader scale, Amazon drivers across the country are feeling the effects of a demanding workload, particularly in extreme heat. Amazon expects drivers to make up to 400 stops per day, even when temperatures exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Raj Singh, a driver with two and half years of experience, recounts that the rear of the truck can reach up to 135 degrees with no cooling system, leading to severe health risks. Amazon’s response to a list of worker demands around pay, safety, and extreme temperatures was to offer workers two 16-ounce bottles of water a day.
Heat exposure is a widespread issue among delivery drivers across various companies. For instance, UPS has reported at least 143 heat-related injuries on the job in recent years. However, the struggle to unionize or fight for improved conditions is particularly difficult for Amazon’s 275,000 drivers due to their employment via third-party subcontractors. The company can easily terminate contracts with these subcontractors, leaving workers in a precarious position.
Despite these challenges, the drivers from Palmdale have continued their fight. They hope that their strike will pressure the trillion-dollar company to recognize the union, respect their contract, and cease what they perceive as retaliation against workers. As they continue to stand up for their rights, their struggle is shining a light on the wider issues faced by workers in the gig economy.
“This is not our last one,” Porter said about the protests. “We’re going to extend it wherever we need to. … It’s one big family. It’s unity.”
The fight for fair labor practices among Amazon workers continues as more employees across the country join in solidarity. Whether the company will acknowledge their grievances and make necessary changes remains to be seen.