Bloomberg Law
March 24, 2022, 6:38 PMUpdated: March 24, 2022, 8:21 PM

AFL-CIO to Boost Amazon Organizing Efforts With Teamsters (1)

Ian Kullgren
Ian Kullgren

The AFL-CIO will help the International Brotherhood of Teamsters unionize Inc. warehouses, federation President Liz Shuler said Thursday.

“We need cross-union collaboration,” Shuler said in an interview with Bloomberg in Washington. “Amazon is huge. Is one union going to be able to organize Amazon by themselves? No. So we need the full breadth and scope and might of the labor movement to come together.”

The partnership would bring a rare level of coordination between the two groups, which have been estranged for nearly two decades and had a fraught relationship for most of the 20th century. Now they will unite for a common cause, Shuler said.

Teamsters president Sean O’Brien, who took office March 22, has pledged a more aggressive posture with big employers, including Amazon. Shuler said she created a cross-union Amazon effort shortly after taking office and would lend personnel to the Teamsters for local organizing efforts.

The AFL-CIO’s vast network of state and local labor councils, Shuler said, would help the Teamsters on the ground—an unexpected move given that the Teamsters split from the federation in 2005 to launch a now-defunct competitor with other unions.

“For the Teamsters, say they go after a facility in Iowa, we have a state and local infrastructure that brings the entirety of the union movement together in a fight,” Shuler said. “We have already been talking about which geographies are the most prone to organizing.”

Shuler’s remarks came on the eve of union elections at Amazon warehouses in Staten Island, N.Y., and Bessemer, Ala. The Staten Island workers will vote in-person Friday, while the Bessemer employees face a deadline to return mail ballots in a do-over election from 2021.

The Teamsters were expelled from the AFL-CIO in 1957 for refusing to cooperate with an internal corruption investigation. The union gained re-admittance in 1987 but withdrew under James P. Hoffa, the longtime president O’Brien disparaged regularly during his campaign last year.

Shuler and O’Brien have both said they’d be open to the Teamsters rejoining the AFL-CIO, but there have been no formal talks. Shuler said the two have exchanged texts but haven’t spoken since O’Brien took over.

“The best way to work together is to integrate each other’s political work and organizing work, and work as closely together as we possibly can,” Shuler said.

(Updated with additional reporting)

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