Amazon Says It Doesn't 'Employ' Drivers, But Records Show It Hired Firms to Prevent Them From Unionizing

Amazon spent $14.2 million total on anti-union consulting in 2022, filings with the Department of Labor show.
an amazon logo on a warehouse
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Amazon hired at least two union-busting consulting firms specifically to prevent its drivers from joining the International Brotherhood of Teamsters over the course of 2022, according to six reports filed to the Department of Labor and obtained by Motherboard. This is notable because Amazon claims that the drivers who deliver its packages are not its employees


Motherboard reviewed five reports filed to the Department of Labor, which showed that Amazon spent more than $14.2 million total on anti-union consulting in 2022. Of that, $160,595 went to Optimal Employee Relations and Action Resources, who, on their own reports, specifically referred to “drivers” as the target group of their persuasion. Amazon and the contractors it hired are required to file these reports with the government each year.

Amazon’s filing references nine contractors hired throughout 2022. Both Optimal Employee Relations and Action Resources say that one of the people “through whom activities were performed” was Fernando Rivera, who filed a report of their own. Rivera’s report again identifies “drivers” as the target group. It also cites “teamsters” as the union in question. 

A third contractor referenced in Amazon’s filing, Government Resources Consultants of America, said that it had been hired to persuade “various employees across the U.S. as may be requested from time to time,” and did not specify a union. However, the filing refers to another consulting group, known as D&G Consulting, whose report filed in May names “Amazon DSP Drivers” as the target group, and “Teamsters” as the union. 


These filings are particularly notable because they show, specifically, that Amazon is trying to squash unions among the delivery drivers that it repeatedly stresses are employees of third-party companies, not Amazon itself. The Teamsters have argued that Amazon is in fact a joint employer of the drivers, and is using its contractor status as a way to evade responsibility. 

“Amazon has a level of responsibility that they’re trying to escape here,” said Randy Korgan, the director of the Teamsters’ Amazon Division, whose goal is to organize the company. “If the subcontractor is its own entity, and the subcontractor employs these drivers, then what is their interest in making sure that there are anti-union consultants meeting with drivers for a company that they don’t have any control over?” 

“It clearly identifies the amount of control that Amazon is exerting over these subcontractors, number one,” he continued. “Number two, it shows that they have a vested interest because [the drivers] are employees of some sort. When you look at these filings, how can you say they’re not your drivers?”

“They just proved they’re an employer,” said Seth Goldstein, a lawyer at Julien, Mirer, Singla and Goldstein, who has represented Amazon warehouse workers unionizing with the Amazon Labor Union. “Why would they be involved in this, if they’re fearing that the [National Labor Relations] Board would rule that they’re a joint employer?” 


The reports do not reference specific Amazon locations. However, this past April, a group of drivers at an Amazon Delivery Service Partner (DSP) in Palmdale, California became the first in the company’s vast network of contractors to unionize when they joined the Teamsters, who comprise one of the biggest unions in the industry. The contract ratification marked the first time the Teamsters had successfully organized an Amazon-related facility, and the DSP owner voluntarily recognized the union almost immediately. 

The problem was, however, that Amazon did not. Because Amazon contracts third-party companies to deliver packages out of its warehouses, it said that the drivers legally only counted as employees of the DSP, called Battle-Tested Strategies (BTS), and were subcontractors to Amazon. For that reason, Amazon declined to bargain with the Teamsters

None of the filings reviewed by Motherboard specifically mention Palmdale, Battle-Tested Strategies, or the delivery station, DAX8.

Amazon spokesperson Eileen Hards told Motherboard that the filings were “unrelated to Battle-Tested Strategies in Palmdale,” and that BTS had been terminated “because of the company’s track record of failing to perform.” She referenced six breaches of contract, five of which were in January. These included grounding policy violations—which refers to how and when a vehicle is taken off the road due to some safety hazard—and a vehicle safety inspection violation. Motherboard has previously reported on Amazon's van maintenance system


When the unionization was first announced on April 24, Amazon said that it had terminated BTS’s contract, not because the workers were unionizing, but because of “poor performance.”

Hards told Motherboard in a statement at the time, “This group does not work for Amazon. This particular third party company had a track record of failing to perform and had been notified of its termination for poor performance well before today’s announcement. This situation is more about an outside company trying to distract from their history of failing to meet their obligations.” 

The filings specifically referencing drivers say that consulting activity occurred between May and September of 2022. The timeline of the Palmdale unionization process is not clear, but Heath Lopez, one of the unionized drivers, previously told Motherboard that workers had started a petition in 2021 for better working conditions, which had served as a precursor to official organizing. 

“Almost immediately upon the workers exercising their right to protected concerted activities, Amazon had anti-union consultants on the ground,” Korgan said. “This is Amazon's M.O. A little bit of concerted activity goes on, Amazon sends anti-union consultants that are trying to talk to drivers and discourage workers.” 


Jesse Moreno, another unionized driver, said that after the union went public, he started seeing new faces around the warehouse. 

“Once we unionized, there was this influx of people we’d never seen,” Moreno said. “Probably around 10 people.” 

He continued that one day after the unionization was announced, an unfamiliar man called a meeting with the drivers, and said that the Teamsters were spreading a false narrative, and that Amazon’s contract with BTS had been terminated and would expire in 60 days. During those 60 days, Amazon started grounding more vehicles, he said. 

“We were being grounded two, three-plus vehicles a day, which was affecting our routes,” Moreno said. “If we don't have vehicles to drive, then we don't have vehicles to deliver these packages, so we don't have our routes and they'll essentially have to send us home. So people were getting cut because of this.” 

“The maintenance that they had on these vehicles is just terrible. Our dashboards would look like a Christmas tree, which they didn't care about before,” Moreno continued. “But once we unionized, if any light was on there—they were grounding our vehicles for just about anything. The fire extinguisher not being on the door, the seatbelt not retracting properly.”

When asked whether Amazon can interfere with the drivers’ efforts if it says it does not employ them, Goldstein said, “They can interfere—if they’re an employer. They’re screwed. You can’t do that. That’s hilarious.”

This is not the first time Amazon has called anti-union consultants to influence an organizing effort at one of its facilities. Last October, when warehouse workers at the company’s ALB1 Albany warehouse tried to join the Amazon Labor Union, Motherboard reported on anti-union consultants sent in to hold captive audience meetings and distribute fliers. When the votes were counted, ALB1 lost its union election almost by a factor of 2-to-1. Those consultants were paid at least $3,200 per day.