scorecardAmazon delivery drivers scored a rare union win. The company swiftly sidestepped it.
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Amazon delivery drivers scored a rare union win. The company swiftly sidestepped it.

Julie Bort   

Amazon delivery drivers scored a rare union win. The company swiftly sidestepped it.
Tech2 min read
An Amazon delivery worker pulls a delivery cart full of packages.    Brendan McDermid/Reuters
  • Amazon delivery drivers have often shared details of difficult working conditions.
  • Drivers working for an Amazon delivery contractor scored a win by unionizing.

A group of 84 Amazon delivery drivers, who work for an independent contractor in Palmdale, California, scored a win by organizing a union and joining the Teamsters. The victory did not last long, though.

The group said they secured a tentative agreement with their employer, Battle-Tested Strategies (BTS). BTS is what's known as an Amazon Delivery Service Partner, or DSP. The agreement included items such as an increase in worker pay and more support for their biggest health and safety concern: working in very hot conditions. Outside temperatures in this city in the desert north of Los Angeles can reach the high 90s, and far higher in delivery vans, the workers say.

The next steps for this union, according to a Teamsters official, is for the full membership to review the agreement and vote on it. There's also one more sticky issue: Amazon must agree to honor it, even though the contract is between the workers and BTS. That's because in the world of DSPs, Amazon sets the rules, the drivers say. If Amazon won't honor the provisions in the agreement, then the union has likely accomplished little.

To that end, the workers protested on Monday outside the Amazon delivery logistics warehouse where they operate, but their arguments fell on deaf ears.

Amazon told Insider that it had, before today's announcement of the union, terminated the contract with BTS.

"Whether the Teamsters are being intentionally misleading or they just don't understand our business, the narrative they're spreading is false. This group of individuals do not work for Amazon. Our delivery network is made up of thousands of independently owned and operated small businesses who provide delivery services for our company," said Eileen Hards, an Amazon spokesperson.

"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," Hards said. BTS did not respond to Insider's request for comment.

DSP drivers have generally told Insider that working conditions are demanding to the point of daunting and they fear recrimination if they fall short of targets. They are expected to deliver 170-350 packages per shift, with BTS saying in its job ads that the workload is 200-350 packages per shift.

Some Amazon drivers told Insider they resorted to peeing in bottles to avoid taking time for a restroom stop. They've also been targeted for robberies, and, in 2021, they said the company installed cameras in vans to monitor them. Amazon confirmed the cameras to CNBC, saying they were installed to give drivers realtime alerts to improve safety while on the road.

DSPs are one of Amazon's largest, and yet mostly invisible, workforces. Amazon said that as of the summer of 2022, nearly 3,000 DSPs employed 275,000 drivers worldwide. They drive Amazon vans and wear Amazon uniforms but don't work directly for the company, so have little ability to present their grievances to the internet giant, the workers say.

If DSP drivers successfully organize with the powerful Teamsters, the impact on Amazon could be significant. Amazon could find itself engaging with potentially thousands of unionized workers.

Other segments of Amazon's workforce, like its warehouse workers, have had spotty success, with one warehouse successfully installing a union and another voting it down last year.