Amazon and Labor

In late Fall of 2018, after a nationwide bidding war with other large metropolitan cities, Ecommerce and tech giant Amazon decided to build its second North American headquarters in Long Island City, Queens.

In return for almost $3 billion in subsidies from the City, Amazon has promised a variety of things to give back to the surrounding communities. Among its promises are 25,000 new jobs, according to Curbed NY.

Amazon has a torrid history with regard to labor, and a number of New York unions have taken notice. In the company’s nearly 30 years of operation, they have avidly fought against unionization, even when there is record of employees fighting to do so. Citing poor working conditions, long hours, and poor work culture, a number of unions have teamed up to generate activism for Amazons workers. The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union along with Teamsters have come out in full force in the name of employee advocacy.

According to Crain’s New York Business, the two unions wrote of Amazon in a series of letters to the Governor and Mayor:

“The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has joined the battle over Amazon’s second headquarters. In letters to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the truckers’ union has teamed up with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to highlight the Seattle giant’s “well-documented record of anti-worker, anti-union behavior” and “deadly and dehumanizing working conditions.” They are asking the elected leaders to “work with us to ensure that Amazon changes the way it operates.”

In response to the public response of Amazon coming into a union stronghold like New York, the company contractually agreed to use union labor for the construction end of their project, but according to the Daily News, both unions remain unconvinced that the company will change its ways:

“As a nod to New York’s still-strong labor movement, the company also agreed to use union workers to both build its new facility and help staff it and keep it maintained — but those terms don’t quite stand up to full scrutiny, according to the Teamsters and RWDSU.

The Building Trades Council’s deal to have union laborers construct the Long Island City headquarters is actually inked with third-party contractor — as is SEIU 32BJ’s contract for maintenance and other services.

Amazon itself remains untouched by a direct labor agreement as part of its deal, the Teamsters and RWDSU said.”

Links below:

Force labor-busting Amazon to change course: Their hostility to unions should be the last straw breaking the back of this rotten deal

Teamsters join fight against Amazon HQ2

AMAZON CAME TO THE BARGAINING TABLE—BUT WORKERS WANT MORE

Employees at Amazon’s New NYC Warehouse Launch Union Push

No union, no deal, NYC labor leaders tell Cuomo and de Blasio about Amazon’s new HQ

Amazon workers in New York just announced their plan to unionize

The App-Based Battleground

California and Seattle are the latest battlegrounds for lawsuits involving ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft. As the gig economy expands, the definitions of job and employee are growing with it. However, the business model of the gig economy can be particularly daunting for their independent contractors-those of who are usually not subject to certain benefits, like workers’ compensation, bargaining rights, unemployment insurance, and the like. The industrys’ near-complete deregulation makes it easy to find work and make money, but consequently makes it hard to be protected from poor business practices.

“Seattle’s law, passed in 2015, requires the city to select a union as the exclusive bargaining representative of the estimated 9,000 drivers in Seattle who work for Uber, Lyft and other services. The law was put on hold pending the outcome of the chamber’s lawsuit”, according to an article on Reuters.com, linked below. While Washington state allows their cities, such as Seattle, to regulate Uber and Lyft, the 9th circuit court took issue with which part of the ride fees were regulated. The courts are allowing the challenge by business groups.

However, in California, the Supreme Court has passed a decision that makes it harder for businesses to “classify workers as independent contractors rather than employees.”, according to the New York Times. The decision could “upend their business models”, mandating minimum wage, overtime, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, etc. laws to be followed by companies. The law creates a simpler definition of employee and independent contractor, by way of substituting the current “test” for another, more streamlined one. This test would be based on someone completing tasks relevant to the business of the company, rather than degree of supervision and other contingencies that currently determine employee status. As the New York Times describes this new test;

“By way of an example, the court said a plumber hired by a store to fix a bathroom leak would not reasonably be considered an employee of that store. But seamstresses sewing at home using materials provided by a clothing manufacturer would probably be considered employees.

In addition, a company must show that it does not control and direct the worker, and that the worker is truly an independent business operator, not just classified that way unilaterally.”

On display in either case is the standard mentality of “safety of workers is a hindrance to businesses.” This has been a hot-button labor topic for the past few years: for-hire drivers demanding protection and benefits. New York City’s’ Black Car Fund was established for this very reason. However, this was before the integration of app-based transportation. This is not the first time Uber and Lyft have been at the crux of these issues. A class-action lawsuit that came about in late 2017 stated that Lyft was docking twice the amount of the Black Car Fund fee (2.5%) from for-hire drivers-once for the fee paid by drivers, and once from the drivers’ actual paychecks. The company ultimately settled for $3 million earlier this year.

U.S. court revives challenge to Seattle’s Uber, Lyft union law

Gig Economy Business Model Dealt a Blow in California Ruling

Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court

The Black Car Fund; NPR Podcast

Lyft faces lawsuit over workers comp fees