The announcement that the Teamsters – one of America’s most powerful unions – is going to mount an ambitious campaign to unionize Amazon warehouses across the US presents the e-retailing colossus with a far bigger threatthan the recent effort to unionize an Amazon warehouse in Alabama ever did.
In Alabama, Amazon’s fierce anti-union press crushed the organizing drive by a small union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). And besides, Amazon had a significant home-field advantage in bright red Alabama. For Amazon, the Alabama face-off felt like a one-and-done win against a junior varsity squad.
But the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, with 1.3 million members, is a far larger, richer, stronger union, and has a century of experience mobilizing and unionizing warehouse workers. Not only that, the Teamsters will mount drives in many places where unions are popular and powerful and arguably have a home-court advantage – think California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and Washington state. In confronting the Teamsters, Amazon will no doubt feel it’s being plunged into a never-ending, head-to-head competition against an Olympic-caliber opponent.
It’s one thing for Amazon to deploy its crack team of anti-union lawyers and consultants to stomp out a union drive at a single warehouse center in Alabama, but it will be quite another thing for Amazon and its anti-union Swat team if the Teamsters mount union drives in 20 or 30 warehouses at once.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Teamsters union is undertaking a national drive against Amazon, the nation’s second largest private-sector employer. Amazon, Teamster officials say, is undermining wages and working conditions in warehousing and trucking, the Teamsters’ two main industries. No surprise that the Teamsters president, James P Hoffa, told his union’s convention on Tuesday that Amazon was “an existential threat to every Teamster out there”.
Asked why the Teamsters are taking on Amazon, Randy Korgan, the union’s national Amazon director, told the Guardian: “It’s a natural. Our union has represented this industry for more than 100 years. We represent hundreds of thousands of workers in this industry.
“Truth be told,” Korgan continued, “Amazon’s impact on this industry is driving wages, working conditions and safety and health conditions downward. You have a lot of UPS, FedEx and US Postal Service drivers doing the delivery portion of this job. These are good-paying middle-class jobs for middle-class families. Amazon’s model is not good for working families, it’s threatening middle-class jobs.” Korgan said Amazon drivers earn about $16 an hour in southern California, while unionized UPS drivers there earn $38 an hour, with $29 an hour above that in health, pension and other benefits.
Labor experts say it makes sense for the Teamsters to target Amazon. “It’s good that the Teamsters are doing this,” said Stewart Acuff, former organizing director for the AFL-CIO, the nation’s main labor federation. “They’re perfectly placed to do this. They’re large, they have major resources, they are committed to organizing and spending the money that’s necessary. Most important, this is their core industry. They have all the interest in the world in battling Amazon.
“They need to do this for their members,” Acuff added. “They also need to do this for their employers so their employers know the Teamsters are willing to spend money to wage war to maintain standards and not let Amazon undercut unionized transportation companies.”
Korgan said the Teamsters would often seek to bypass union elections conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) because many unions see that process as hugely favoring employers, which have access to workers 24 hours a day. That’s one reason the RWDSU lost badly in Alabama, with 1,798 against unionizing to 738 in favor.
“The NLRB strategy is only one of many ways to seek recognition,” Korgan said. One way, Korgan said, would be to seek to pressure Amazon to agree to card check and neutrality (not to oppose unionization). “Those are some of the strategies,” Korgan said. “Everything is on the table.” The Teamsters’ resolution on Amazon also spoke of “shop floor strikes, city-wide strikes and actions in the streets”.
Asked to be more specific about tactics and timing, Korgan said: “Stay tuned.”
Korgan said the Teamsters’ organizing efforts at Amazon would be helped greatly by thousands of Teamster members who volunteer to help – whether by joining a rally outside an Amazon warehouse or by telling Amazon workers of the advantages of unions. “We’re part of the fabric of these communities, we’re not an outside institution,” Korgan said. “We’re not a third party. We’re coaching baseball right next to that individual who works at Amazon. We’re living in the same neighborhoods. Our kids go to the same schools.”
Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, said some areas hold promise for the Teamsters’ efforts; he pointed to the Inland Empire, an area east of Los Angeles teeming with warehouses.
Wong said the Teamsters might be able to win there because southern California has strong unions and many pro-labor lawmakers, and besides, the head of the Los Angeles County Labor Federation is a prominent Teamster leader. “Anywhere you have a robust labor movement with strong labor-community alliances and elected officials who are willing to speak out and support the right of workers to form unions, that gives you a leg up,” Wong said.
He praised the Teamsters for undertaking its Amazon campaign, but said it won’t be easy. “When you take on a giant corporation that has a strong, anti-union policy, it’s going to be an uphill fight,” Wong said. “It will be a long-term, protracted fight.”
Wong said the Teamsters have a “mixed reputation, given the legacy of the original Jimmy Hoffa”.
But he added: “The Teamsters are known as a fighting union that has successfully raised the wages and working conditions for workers in these industries.”
In other words, the Teamsters have a reputation, a swagger, that stills attract many workers. In recent years, the Teamsters have unionized more than 20,000 school bus drivers and scored numerous victories unionizing warehouses, including at Sysco Foods and US Foods.
In its Amazon campaign, the question will be whether the Teamsters’ reputation as a fierce, fighting union that delivers to workers will succeed in overcoming the fierce, anti-union propaganda campaign that Amazon conducts in its warehouses.
Terra Solar, a NovaUCD start-up founded in 2016, is giving up its sites in Wexford and Cork to Power Capital to develop solar farms.
Dublin-based company Power Capital Renewable Energy (PCRE) has announced plans to acquire majority interest in Terra Solar’s 400MW portfolio.
This will bring the company’s total solar assets to 840MW and boost its presence in the Irish solar power space.
A start-up that sprung out of NovaUCD, the University College Dublin accelerator, Terra Solar was founded by David Fewer and André Fernon in 2016. State-owned ESB was one of Terra Solar’s early investors, putting up €2.5m for a stake in the company.
Paris-based VC firm Omnes Capital will back the development of the solar sites over the next few years, which require around €200m to build out. Irish and international lenders will also back the development.
Power Capital director Peter Duff said that his company’s aim of becoming Ireland’s leading independent power producer has come a step closer with the deal.
“Both Terra Solar and PCRE share common values and ambitions to help Ireland meet its 2030 targets and we are excited that Terra Solar chose us as a partner to bring these sites through construction,” he said.
The solar farm sites, located in Wexford and Cork, are a culmination of more than four years of engagement with local landowners, communities and planners, said Fewer.
“We will be retaining an equity stake in the developments and will be working intensively with all stakeholders over the coming few years to ensure that these sites are successfully constructed while equally continuing to grow our remaining development pipeline of 600MW.”
Justin Brown, co-founder of Power Capital, said that the company is currently in talks with other industry bodies about “increasing our foothold in the sector and we expect to see renewable energy being the dominant generator of electricity across Ireland within the next decade”.
Construction on the solar farms is set to begin in 2022 and the project is expected to be completed in the next five years.
The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.
Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.
Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we’re told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot’s every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.
This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they’ll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.
“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications,” said CEO Wendy Tan White.
“Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”
Tan White – a British entrepreneur and investor who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2016 for her services to the tech industry – will leave her role as vice president of X, Alphabet’s moonshot R&D lab, to concentrate on Intrinsic.
She earlier co-founded and was CEO of website-building biz Moonfruit, and helped multiple early-stage companies get up and running as a general partner at Entrepreneur First, a tech accelerator. She is also a board trustee of the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, and member of Blighty’s Digital Economic Council.
“I loved the role I played in creating platforms that inspired the imagination and entrepreneurship of people all over the world, and I’ve recently stepped into a similar opportunity: I’m delighted to share that I’m now leading Intrinsic, a new Alphabet company,” she said.
The new outfit is another venture to emerge from Google-parent Alphabet’s X labs, along with Waymo, the self-driving car startup; and Verily, a biotech biz. ®