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Amazon delivery drivers and dispatchers walked out of their delivery facility on Thursday to demand that Amazon bargain with them. The 84 drivers currently on strike have held picket lines before, but this is the first time Amazon drivers have walked out in the U.S., according to a Teamsters press release.
The drivers, who work for the Amazon delivery service partner (DSP) Battle-Tested Strategies in Palmdale, California, unionized with the Teamsters in late April, and are demanding that Amazon come to the bargaining table to negotiate a contract. Drivers have already negotiated and ratified a contract with the DSP, which voluntarily recognized their union. Amazon has previously stated that, because the drivers don’t work directly for Amazon—they work for the DSP, which is then contracted by Amazon—that the company is not obligated to bargain with them. For the past month, the union has been trying to prove that wrong, saying that, despite Amazon placing all responsibility onto the DSP, it is in fact in “complete control” of the DSP’s operations. “We are on the picket line today to demand the pay and safety standards that we deserve,” said Raj Singh, one unionized driver on strike, in a statement. “We work hard for a multibillion-dollar corporation. We should be able to provide food and clothes for our kids.” The drivers’ contract with the DSP guarantees a higher wage, protections against the extreme heat of California summers, and the right to refuse unsafe deliveries. Heat is an industry-wide hazard for delivery drivers. Motherboard has previously reported on how UPS drivers must deal with temperatures of over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Earlier this week, the Teamsters won a tentative agreement with UPS guaranteeing improved heat protections and air conditioning in trucks.
“The back of an Amazon van feels like an oven in the summer,” said Cecilia Porter, another driver on strike, in a statement. “I’ve felt dizzy and dehydrated, but if I take a break, I’ll get a call asking why I’m behind on deliveries. We are protecting ourselves and saying our safety comes first.”Singh previously told Motherboard about his experiences with driving in heat. “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,” he said at the time. “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.” The Teamsters say that, instead of honoring the contract’s guarantees, Amazon has violated labor law by refusing to bargain, surveilling union members, and even terminating the DSP’s contract because of the organizing, according to an unfair labor practice charge filed to the National Labor Relations Board in May. Amazon previously told Motherboard in a statement that the DSP had actually been terminated for “poor performance"—the DSP owner contests this statement.Amazon spokesperson Eileen Hards told Motherboard in a statement that, “While we respect everyone’s right to express their opinions, the facts here are being intentionally misrepresented by the Teamsters and BTLT. This company has a history of underperformance and not providing a safe environment, and was notified that Amazon was ending their contract before the Teamsters got involved to try and re-write the facts.”“Amazon has no respect for the rule of law, the health of its workers, or the livelihood of their families,” said Randy Korgan, the director of the Teamsters Amazon Division, which has been working to organize Amazon facilities to protect workers and maintain wage standards in the delivery and logistics industry. “Workers are on strike today because the only thing this corporate criminal cares about is profits. We are sending a message to Amazon that violating worker rights will no longer be business as usual.”