Senators Hammer Amazon For ‘Union-Busting’ With Delivery Drivers

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators asked Amazon on Wednesday to provide them with information regarding the company’s delivery network and its response to union organizing — the latest instance of lawmakers putting heat on the retail giant over its labor practices.

In a letter, the lawmakers accused Amazon of using a subcontracting arrangement to “avoid legal liability” regarding drivers’ pay and working conditions, and said they planned to carry out a “distinct oversight inquiry” into the matter.

Sen. Chris Murphy, the Connecticut Democrat leading the effort, said in a press conference at the Capitol that it was time for Amazon “to do the right thing and take responsibility for the working conditions of some of its most important employees.”

“Amazon needs to stop these union-busting techniques, needs to stop punishing workers for standing up for themselves,” Murphy said.

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement that the lawmakers’ letter was “misinformed and inaccurate.” The company disputed the letter’s assertions regarding driver safety, and said it had invested $8 billion in training and programs for subcontracted drivers.

“DSPs are small business owners and entrepreneurs who are creating good jobs, with great pay and benefits, for more than 275,000 drivers around the world,” Nantel said. “We strongly dispute the claims in the letter and look forward to sharing the facts.”  

Murphy was joined on the letter by 24 other Democrats and, in a somewhat rare move, three Republicans: Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri, J.D. Vance of Ohio and Roger Marshall of Kansas.

Amazon needs to stop these union-busting techniques, needs to stop punishing workers for standing up for themselves.Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut)

The senators are demanding details regarding Amazon’s “delivery service partner,” or DSP, network — the sprawling system of subcontracted delivery drivers who get Amazon orders to your door.

The drivers are technically employed and paid by outside contractors, but the Teamsters and other labor groups maintain that the retail giant is really the one setting the working conditions. Whether Amazon is a “joint employer” of the drivers is a crucial legal question, since such a finding could compel Amazon to the bargaining table if workers unionize. 

Amazon maintains that the drivers are not its employees even if they exclusively deliver Amazon packages, wear Amazon uniforms and drive Amazon-branded vans.

Amazon’s delivery network is made up of

Amazon’s delivery network is made up of “delivery service partners” that are outside contractors.

The lawmakers’ letter included a detailed list of questions diving into who controls the work for delivery drivers — Amazon or its DSPs.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Amazon was trying to shield itself through subcontracting.

“Amazon is the hand. Amazon has decided to get all of its goods delivered across America by putting on a glove — using a corporate third party to shield the hand,” Warren said. “And with the hand in the glove, Amazon feels safe to break laws that guarantee drivers fair and safe working conditions and to ignore the union that represents those drivers.”

The Republican Vance told HuffPost he doesn’t buy that the drivers aren’t Amazon employees.

“There are some weird ways that Amazon treats certain people and I think they ought to do a better job,” he said. “I think they use certain loopholes to try and pretend they aren’t actually employees, and they are.”

Asked why more Republicans don’t seem to hold that position, Vance said lawmakers should be more critical of Amazon.

“I think a lot of Republicans see themselves as allies of business and I think generally that’s true,” he said, “but I think there are certain businesses we shouldn’t be allies of.”

Last year, a group of subcontracted Amazon delivery drivers and dispatchers in Southern California unionized with the Teamsters. Amazon said at the time that the delivery service partner that employed the workers was in the process of losing its contract with the retailer.

The Teamsters said a majority of the workers signed union cards and called on Amazon to recognize the bargaining unit and start negotiating. So far, the company has declined to do so. 

The case is currently before the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that referees union disputes in the private sector.

This story has been updated with comments from Amazon and Vance.

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