Amazon Delivery Drivers Unionized. Now They Have to Prove They Work For Amazon

The Teamsters say that Amazon is in “complete control” of the conditions which caused drivers to organize. Amazon has declined to bargain.
amazon prime delivery van drives on street
An Amazon delivery van. Image Credit: Getty Images

Two weeks ago, a group of drivers working for an Amazon Delivery Service Partner (DSP) became the first unionized drivers in the company’s network of contractors when they ratified a union contract with the Teamsters. That is an incredibly fast path from voting to unionize to contract ratification, and was a major win for almost everyone involved. 


The drivers will be working their way up to $30 an hour, paid holidays, and their employer must have “just cause” to discipline or fire them, a step toward no longer being overworked by unachievable performance requirements. The ratification also confirmed the Teamsters’ first direct bargaining contact within Amazon’s vast web of workers, something the union has been working towards for some time

The contract also includes provisions that prevent workers from being disciplined solely by information collected by in-truck surveillance equipment, language designed to protect their physical safety and that requires their employer to provide them vehicles in "safe operating condition."

To its credit, the owner of the DSP, Battle-Tested Strategies (BTS), voluntarily recognized the union and signed the collective bargaining agreement almost immediately.

The problem? Amazon did not. It said that because the drivers were contracted by BTS, Amazon was not their employer, and therefore would not have to come to the bargaining table. 

The union’s next step is proving that wrong. Amazon, it says, is a joint employer of the drivers, and in full control of the conditions that caused them to organize—low pay, unsafe heat conditions, and extreme performance requirements—despite the fact that it places those responsibilities on the DSP.


“After engaging in bargaining, engaging in information requests, engaging in understanding of the relationship between Amazon and the DSP—Amazon has complete control,” said Randy Korgan, the director of the Teamsters’ Amazon Division and director of organizing for Teamsters Joint Council 42. 

The union contract is specifically for the relationship between the drivers and the DSP. However, Korgan said, “There's language in the contract that obviously drives at the subject that Amazon's in control.” 

One example Korgan referenced specifically was the issue of pay. Before drivers organized, they were paid $19.75 per hour, which they say was not enough to sustain them comfortably. The DSP is located in Palmdale, California, about an hour from Los Angeles. Palmdale has a cost of living about 30 percent higher than the national average. 

“With inflation and everything else, it’s hard to make a living,” said Rajpal Singh, a delivery driver and union organizer at BTS. “I have a family I need to feed. There are some weeks I need to sit there and wonder if I’m going to have nutritious food for my kids. I have to play ‘Which bill am I going to pay this week?’ It’s hard to even start a savings or go on a family vacation, or to even make do with the things that are necessities.” 

Amazon spokesperson Eileen Hards said that the DSP was responsible for setting wages. 


A spokesperson for BTS said that Amazon set regional minimums for what DSPs could pay their drivers, and that the regional minimum for this delivery station was $19.75. Because Amazon pays DSPs and often requires them to work only with Amazon, the company plays a huge role in what types of wages are sustainable for a DSP to pay. 

The contract states that, effective Sept. 1, drivers will be paid $30 per hour. “The DSP owner believed at this particular moment that that would be fair,” said Korgan. If the DSP owner couldn’t afford to pay that wage, the contract allows him time to contact Amazon and ask for assistance. 

“Amazon creates a very narrow bandwidth for those DSPs to operate,” he continued. “Even though they would like to pay closer to an industry standard, and they would like to not have the turnover and be able to hire somebody, Amazon purposefully has this very narrow bandwidth.” 

The contract also directly addresses unsafe heat levels, and how that might impact drivers. It states, “The Company shall abide by the State of California Heat Illness Prevention Standard,” and that it will grant workers any additional breaks afforded to them by that standard

“The vans we have—it's a big metal container. In the extreme heat it can get upwards of 130, 135 degrees inside the van,” said Singh. “You walk in, and it’s sweltering, the wave of heat that hits you—the only comparison I can give you is like walking into an oven, because it’s that nasty dry heat. You feel like you’re just getting cooked back there. I go through 10-12 bottles of water a day, and I urinate once.” 


“Last summer, there were a couple of times I was getting dizzy, and started seeing spots, feeling like I was going to black out,” he continued. “When you’re in here and you get those feelings like you’re gonna pass out at any moment—I’m worried, am I going to make it home, make it through this day? Am I going to end up being hospitalized?” 

A critical line in the contract addresses this, stating, “The Company shall not require employees to complete deliveries that jeopardize their safety.” Korgan explained that, specifically in relation to heat, this allows a driver to return from their route early if they feel sick or unable to handle the temperature. It also prevents the company—in this case, the DSP, but Amazon by extension—from punishing a worker for not finishing their route due to unsafe levels of heat, or other unsafe conditions. If the company does so, workers are afforded the right to file a grievance. 

Heath Lopez, another driver and organizer, said that numerous Amazon-branded vans at the delivery station had broken air conditioning systems. 

“The majority of our vans don’t have working air conditioning units, and when it gets unbearably hot during the day, the AC does not feel like it even cools down the heat a little bit,” Lopez said.”I would have to press my face up against it just to feel the cold air.”

Hards, the Amazon spokesperson, said that the DSP leased its vehicles from a third party, and was solely responsible for van maintenance.


Jonathon Ervin, the owner of BTS, said that it was true that Amazon placed all responsibility for repairs on the DSP. But, he continued, Amazon’s selected step van vendor, Amerit Fleet Solutions, was the only company approved to make inspections or repairs on half of the vans—meaning that getting on the waitlist for a repair or towing the van to a repair site took much more time, because of the limited availability one company can have. He said that sometimes, too, the air conditioning was irreparable. The other half were Mercedes vans, which could easily get taken for repairs but would need to be paid for out-of-pocket and could take months or weeks to complete, he said—making any progress on the air conditioning systems had been nearly impossible. 

“They put the liability on me, but I have to use their process,” he said. “They assign me these vans, and they make me go through the process that they’ve created to get the maintenance complete—and most of the time, it doesn’t work well enough to prevent me from spending money on a repair.”

“If you have a vehicle, then there should be a process to make sure that it's functioning correctly, and that is dealt with in the collective agreement as well,” Korgan said. “Unfortunately, it appears as if Amazon, again, has control over these vehicles and how they get handed out. Amazon will say, ‘Well, that's the contractor's responsibility.’ But what we're finding is that the contractor is limited as to where they can get their vendor usage. If you're completely controlling the vendors, and then you're telling the contractor it's their responsibility, and the vendor is controlled by Amazon, then who’s repairing it, really? I think you can read between the lines of what's happening to the contractor.”


The contract addresses this by allowing workers to refuse to drive a vehicle that has non-functional air conditioning: “The Company shall not require employees to drive any vehicle that is not in safe operating condition…It shall not be a violation of this agreement when employees refuse to operate such equipment unless such refusal is unjustified.” Until that vehicle is fixed, it will not be used. 

Lopez also said the workload that Amazon expects of its delivery drivers was unreasonable given their time limit. Amazon is responsible for designing the routes and setting time constraints for performance—the DSP then distributes the routes to its available drivers each day. 

“Amazon determines where we deliver, how many packages we deliver, and when we deliver them,” said Ervin. “They control everything in a big algorithm. Now, we do have the ability to give a route to somebody else—but that route, how big it is and where it is, we do not control.”

The routes are eight hours long, and drivers get roughly 200 stops with around 300 packages, according to Lopez. Incorporating the hour’s worth of break time that drivers are usually afforded, that means they would have to deliver to one stop every two minutes. Things get harder if the routes are more spread thin, Lopez said, because the drivers would have to spend more time on the road going between groups of stops instead of delivering in a consolidated area. Routes get more difficult to complete if drivers have to deal with extreme heat conditions, or if they decide to use the restroom or take their breaks, which docks the amount of time they have to deliver.


“Half of the stuff that happens on the road is out of our control,” he said. “All we’re asking Amazon is that we want better working conditions and reasonable deadlines.” 

The contract does not have specific language regarding Amazon’s performance requirements, Korgan said. However, it does have language that allows drivers to take all breaks afforded to them by law, and that they cannot be punished for doing so: “The Company shall not issue an infraction if a driver departs from their route to take their rest or meal period or to use the restroom, drink water, or otherwise care for their health and well-being.” Korgan said that this, in addition to the grievance procedure, would allow workers to fight back against any disciplinary action they could receive for not being “productive” enough. 

“We don’t want to see them have to put the package before their health, and the language does address it,” he said.

Amazon spokesperson Hards said that the company does not retaliate against the DSP’s drivers for coming back early or not finishing a route.

Korgan also pointed out that the contract was drawn up without a no-strike clause—meaning that the drivers have a right to strike, one of the most powerful actions a union can take.

The contract between the Teamsters and the DSP provides the first protections this powerful for any Amazon driver in the U.S. But they may not last long. On April 14, around a week before the union went public on April 24, Amazon had moved to terminate the DSP’s contract. Hards said in a statement on behalf of Amazon when the unionization was announced that, “This group does not work for Amazon,” and that it “had been notified of its termination for poor performance well before [the April 24] announcement.” 


Both the Teamsters and the DSP’s owner, Jonathan Ervin, say this was retaliatory conduct for unionization. 

“One day in 2021, we had 93 routes, 100 vans on the road. We delivered over 20,000 packages. In one day,” Ervin said. “We’re very proud of our record, so I will not allow Amazon to rewrite the narrative, [and say] that we weren't top performers, and they didn't trust our drivers to do the best that they could do.” 

The Teamsters filed an unfair labor practice charge (ULP) against Amazon last week, alleging that retaliatory conduct against drivers, as well as outright refusing to bargain, were blatant violations of labor law. 

“Under any standard applied by the Board, there is no question that Amazon is a single and/or joint employer with BTS,” the charge reads. “This means it is patently unlawful for Amazon to rid itself of these newly unionized employees—and to thus chill similarly situated employees at DAX8 [the delivery station] and across the country who might themselves wish to organize—by chopping off this troubled appendage and terminating its contract with BTS.” 

Hards said that the drivers will continue to deliver packages through June 24—this is due to the WARN Act, which in certain cases requires employers to give workers at least 60 days’ notice before firing them. 

When asked whether Amazon considered itself a joint employer of the workers, Hards said that the company was still working through some details, but that it had not recognized the union because, traditionally, union negotiations happen within a business, so this negotiation was between the DSP owner and his workers.

“The DSP truly appears to be concerned about the safety and the working conditions of their drivers,” Korgan said. “They're just fed up. Every DSP operator I have talked to is exasperated.”