The Teamsters + A Flailing Independent Union = A Team-Up For Disaster?

by | Jun 10, 2024 | IBT, Independents, Industry, Labor Relations Ink, Labor Relations Insight, Leadership, Legal, Logistics, Sean O'Brien, Transportation, Union Leaders, Union Leaders, Union Organizing, Unions

The Teamsters (IBT) worry about their own extinction. The overall downward trend of union membership hit the union heavily as their current 1.3 million membership is nowhere near their mid-1970s heyday of 2.2 million. Also, the Teamsters’ big contract “victory” at UPS led to President Sean O’Brien fleeing from questions about broken promises.

The Amazon Labor Union (ALU), meanwhile, wants a bailout in more ways than one. The independent union stumbled into a wall after its only victory at Staten Island’s JFK8 warehouse in 2022, followed by failed votes and withdrawn petitions elsewhere. The union also still doesn’t have a first contract and began 2024 with “-$48,000 in net assets.” Compare that to the Teamsters’ claimed $300 million strike fund.

Then there would be the ALU’s plentiful infighting. President Chris Smalls is an overall embarrassment and a human money pit. Reports claiming that Smalls would not pursue reelection were wrong, and the ALU’s Democratic Reform Caucus, led by Connor Spence, wants to unseat Smalls.

Enter the Teamsters, who have been awaiting an Amazon opportunity.

The logistics giant is an IBT target: Amazon’s warehouses and fulfillment centers employ thousands of full-time workers a pop. That’s far more than the Teamsters’ occasional odd museum and cannabis wins, and the Teamsters are so eager for a win that they recently declared a false victory while claiming to unionize “Amazon drivers” who actually work for a third-party delivery firm. The union even picketed Amazon for those drivers.

The big chess move: The Teamsters moved to officially affiliate with the ALU with the goal of organizing warehouses in a Starbucks-like wave.

The basic terms: The Teamsters will financially back the ALU, which will function as “an ‘autonomous’ local union with the same rights and duties as a standard chapter.” The Teamsters will also provide organizing, strategic, and legal support to the ALU. And tellingly, the Teamsters “agreed to fund an internal officer election” for the ALU.

What’s in it for the Teamsters? More members and more dues, baby.

Another takeaway: O’Brien and Smalls are scratching each other’s backs.

Bloomberg Law reported that the affiliation agreement was “hashed out behind closed doors between” O’Brien and Smalls and later “stunned unsuspecting workers.” Connor Spence revealed that he was privy to initial discussions, but Smalls sealed the deal on his own, and the Teamsters’ executive board quickly ratified the agreement.

Have the Teamsters climbed aboard a sinking ship? Perhaps, but ALU members haven’t ratified their side yet. Some more related events:

  • The Teamsters successfully lobbied for the introduction of the Warehouse Worker Protection Act, which is already law in New York, into the U.S. House of Representatives. The combined timing of this lobbying and the ALU agreement is no coincidence.
  • The Teamsters kicked the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) hard. In doing so, O’Brien issued a memo that canceled a “no-raid” agreement, so get ready for the Teamsters to start poaching on IAM turf. The IAM has already shown that they can go poaching too, so the fallout could turn into a spectator sport.

The irony of the Teamsters pretending to broker peace within the ALU while also effectively declaring war on the IAM? Priceless.

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