A group of 84 drivers in Palmdale, California scored a huge win recently when they voted to unionize with the Teamsters. But the real fight lies ahead. Vox reports that the whole situation is much more complicated than a simple vote.
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The first problem lies with the status of the workers themselves. Anyone would assume that the 84 people work for Amazon, but the reality is that they work “for” Amazon. Sound confusing? That’s because it is.
Like many other companies, Amazon has realized that it’s cheaper to hire contract workers than it is to bring on full-time employees. As a result, many Amazon drivers are actually working for other companies that are contracting their labor out to Amazon. In this case, the drivers who unionized are actually employed by a company called Battle Tested Strategies (BTS), a last-mile logistics company. BTS recognized the union after the drivers negotiated the union contract with the Teamsters.
Things get murkier with Amazon’s claims to Vox over its contact with BTS:
Amazon has told Vox that its contract with BTS, which exclusively delivers for Amazon, was terminated “well before” workers notified the tech giant Monday, but that the contract hasn’t expired yet.
But the Teamsters claim that the drivers are still contracted to work for Amazon, and that their contract goes through October, which is when it would automatically renew.
Labor laws make all of this more confusing, since those laws were written before the massive uptake of contract hires. As a result, the court will have to determine the status of the employees: if they’re jointly employed by Amazon and BTS, for example, or if they’re only employed by BTS.
For Amazon to be a joint employer, they’d have to have a controlling say in what the drivers do, as a law professor explained to Vox.
“If Amazon is able to get away with ignoring the workers’ decision and hiding behind the subcontractor relationships, then I’m afraid we’ll have yet another story of the failure of American labor law. If this leads to a recognition that these drivers are Amazon employees, joint employees, then this could be massively important.”
Other parts at play are California’s laws concerning independent contractors or employees for the company as well as the elephant in the room: whether Amazon purposely terminated its contract with BTS because the company knew that the drivers were unionizing. Whether this fight gets better or worse for the drivers, the significance of simply unionizing as an Amazon driver might be enough of a win for some.