Committed to helping workers gain power at Amazon

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Photo Teamsters Local 63: The author, Robert Martinez, at a Cyber Monday Community Picket Line on 12/2/19 in San Bernardino.

By Robert Martinez, Teamsters Local 63 member based in Ontario, CA. He has worked in the logistics industry since 1999.

Over the past several decades, the Inland Empire has become a massive logistics hub. Vast swaths of land once worked by pickers in fields have turned into warehouse after warehouse and their endless stream of delivery trucks and other vehicles. Our region’s largest employer, Amazon, has led this transformation and the effects of its explosive growth are evident.  The company’s dominance in e-commerce and logistics is driving down worker and community standards with an employment model of high turnover, high rates of injury, and low wages. This is not the future we want for our region’s working families. Thankfully, there is a better way — change through organizing.

This Labor Day, I am proud to stand with logistics industry workers who know that the only path forward for all of us is to help Amazon workers build the power they need to win dignity and respect on the job.

This fight is a personal one for my family. I am a native to the region and have seen the transformation across the Inland Empire. I’m a full-time UPS employee and have been a member of Teamsters Local 63 since 1999. I learned the importance of being in a union from my dad.  He was a Teamster warehouse worker for almost 30 years. My Teamsters union contract at UPS provides me with wages to send my kids to college and healthcare benefits that cover the care my family needs without worrying about insurmountable medical bills. The union difference has provided upward mobility for so many like me. It only happens when workers come together to exercise their right to sit at the decision-making table through collective bargaining.

The problem comes now that Amazon is a competitor to these good union logistics jobs. Over the next few years, Amazon plans to build thousands of warehouses across the country. They will be the largest private employer in the nation soon enough. What does that mean for the average county? Bureau of Labor Statistics data for the 68 counties where Amazon has opened a large facility reveals the average compensation for the industry declined more than six percent two years later. OSHA data for 2020 shows that the severe injury rate at Amazon warehouses was almost 80% higher than the entire warehousing industry. In California, researchers found that the average turnover rate for warehouse workers more than doubled in the years between 2011 (a year before Amazon’s first fulfillment center opening) and 2017, from 38.1% to 100.9% in counties where Amazon built facilities.

Sadly, these are the conditions that spread to entire communities because of Amazon. The company is spending vast amounts of money on a public relations campaign to convince Americans everywhere that a $15 minimum wage in its warehouses is impressive. Amazon wants the world to compare its wages to Walmart and other low-wage retailers. Meanwhile, it’s driving down the warehouse and delivery industries which pay twice that or more.

My union recently committed publicly to help workers build power at Amazon. I am one of the thousands of members talking to Amazon workers about their rights to demand respect and dignity at work. It’s not just a mission. It’s a legacy. Throughout our 100-year history, millions of Teamsters have come together to guarantee a middle-class living for workers in their respective industries. Amazon has billions of dollars at their disposal, but working people have power in numbers. So on this Labor Day, if you are concerned about whether your boss pays you enough to live, or your job security, or if you can afford healthcare — join me and organize!

*Views expressed in op-eds do not necessarily reflect the views of IECN.