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Labor

September 25, 2023

Palmdale Amazon drivers extend four month strike to San Bernardino

After their contract was terminated by Amazon, workers seeking safer working conditions are on an Unfair Labor Practice strike around the country.

Jacob Ragaza, Undercurrents staff
teamsters strike at san bernardino

“AMAZON, YOU CAN’T HIDE, WE CAN SEE YOUR GREEDY SIDE!!” 

Striking Amazon delivery drivers from Palmdale, California, have extended their picket lines to San Bernardino as a part of a five-month strike against retaliation for unionizing, as well as low pay and unsafe working conditions. This September, over 25 Teamsters union members, Palmdale delivery drivers and local community members picketed outside KSBD, Amazon’s regional air hub in Southern California, to block trucks from entering or leaving the facility. 

In April, the workers voted to unionize with the Teamsters, negotiating a union contract with the Amazon subcontractor they worked with. The Guardian reported that the DAX8 workers are the first Amazon delivery drivers to unionize and win a contract.

Subsequently, Amazon eliminated work contracts with the subcontractor for all 84 unionized workers, according to an NLRB complaint that the Teamsters filed on June 24, which alleged that Amazon broke federal labor law.

DAX8 drivers have picketed at over 20 Amazon warehouszes across the country since then, supporting organizing by fulfillment center workers inside.

After picketing in San Bernardino in June and July, the drivers returned to the San Bernardino Air Hub (KSBD) on Sept. 25. Dozens of Claremont students joined the Teamsters picket line in September.

Jesus Gutierrez, a striking Palmdale driver, started working during peak season. From the start, Gutierrez noticed how Amazon placed unreasonable demands on workers and failed to enforce inspections for vehicles. 

“Everything is getting expensive. Car, gas, food, rent. So at this point, if we don’t do anything to stop this, it’s only gonna get worse.”

Jesus Gutierrez

Pay has also been a demand from the striking workers as the cost of living rises around the LA area. As Gutierrez described: “Everything is getting expensive. Car, gas, food, rent. So at this point, if we don’t do anything to stop this, it’s only gonna get worse.” 

On the picket line, police officers asked workers to stop blocking the entrance to the warehouse. When workers refused to leave, officers began leaving tickets on the cars of those on the picket line. This led to workers briefly dispersing to park their cars elsewhere before returning to the picket. 

What happened?

The Palmdale delivery drivers were subcontracted by Battle Tested Strategies (BTS), one of Amazon’s three thousand delivery service partners, as a strategy to avoid fair working conditions and pay. The workers had petitioned Amazon to address working conditions in the summer of 2022, such as broken air-conditioning when delivering 110 degree heat. 

In late April, Gutierrez along with 83 other Palmdale truck drivers voted to unionize and join Teamsters Local 396. 

Instead of addressing the concerns of the newly formed union, Amazon retaliated. Amazon canceled its contract with BTS in June, resulting in the ongoing strike and Teamsters filing a charge with the NLRB

“I guess Amazon didn’t like that and made up an excuse that we were performing poorly,” Heath Lopez, a striking Amazon driver from the Palmdale facility, said to Undercurrents. “So they terminated our contract as of June.”

Lopez also raised concerns about how Amazon had artificially raised the delivery system quota for drivers. In the past, Amazon would count dropping off a package at a location as a “stop”. Lopez described how the company has changed its policies to include “group stops”, which means a delivery driver could have multiple delivery locations under one stop. 

“I think that’s just another way for them to save time and more just to push us for every level that they can instead of paying us more,” Lopez said. 

The raised stop count isn’t the first time Amazon has prioritized company profit over its workers’ wellbeing. One of these former workers, Melissa Ojeda, shared her experience as a former warehouse employee at the San Bernardino location.

“It was 10 hours a day nonstop. Usually I did a lot of work on my own, which involved carrying 6,000 to 10,000 packages all by myself because of the staffing ratios”

Melissa Ojeda, former warehouse employee

“It was very stressful. Sometimes I would have water. Sometimes I wouldn’t,” Ojeda said. “It was 10 hours a day nonstop. Usually I did a lot of work on my own, which involved carrying 6,000 to 10,000 packages all by myself because of the staffing ratios they would do.”

Ojeda has now developed sciatica, which occurs when injury or pressure on the sciatic nerve causes pain, weakness, and numbness to the leg and foot. When Ojeda complained to Amazon, managers denied that the company was responsible for her injuries.

“According to their equations, everything is okay. We’re earning enough and not getting hurt,” Ojeda said. “They try to tell us that our injuries happened somewhere else at home or outside of work.”

Claremont students stand in solidarity with Amazon workers

Students throughout the 5Cs have also worked with the Amazon Union in efforts to organize and support workers. Students have organized under the Claremont Student Worker Alliance (CSWA), which coordinated groups of students to send to the San Bernardino picket line. 

Noah Knowlton-Latkin PZ ‘17 describes his experience supporting workers at Amazon. After graduating, Knowlton-Latkin helped hotel workers in Ontario unionize for three years before getting laid off with other hotel workers at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. He decided to jump into Amazon organizing as more than 400,000 people began working for the company at the peak of the pandemic.

In particular at Amazon, Knowlton-Latkin has noticed difficulties organizing Amazon workers due to high turnover rates. A document in 2022 received by Endgadget showed a 150% employee turnover rate, double the industry average.

Getting workers their jobs back after unjust firings have been key moments of hope for the labor struggle. KSBD workers have written about their own experiences of being constantly targeted and surveilled by Amazon, unjustly fired for striking and getting reinstated due to the solidarity of workers at Inland Empire Amazon Workers United. 

““Amazon will just fire people over such trivial bullshit. There’s been multiple [instances] where we, the committee and the main workers organizing, have been able to get a bunch of people to confront management over unfair treatment of workers that were, at times, afraid.”

Noah Knowlton-Latkin, PZ’17

“Amazon all the time will just fire people over such trivial bullshit,” Knowlton-Latkin told Undercurrents while comparing the firings to the struggle to rehire the Pitzer 3. “There’s been multiple [instances] where we, the committee and the main workers organizing, have been able to get a bunch of people to confront management over unfair treatment of workers that were, at times, afraid.”

Knowlton-Latkin also emphasized the critical role Claremont students can play in the region of the Inland Empire. 

“Claremont is right next to, if not a part of the Inland Empire, which is a region of the country [that is important] for the logistic sector,” Knowlton-Latkin said. 40% of the nation’s goods are transported through the Inland Empire, according to the LA Times.

“A lot of activism and organizing over the years has a key role to play in really helping us build this movement against one of the biggest companies in the world,” Knowlton-Laktin said.

For CSWA member Luna Romero PZ ‘26, attending the Amazon picket gave her the opportunity to see firsthand what slowing lines of production meant. 

“I joined the picket because I know each local fight sets a precedent for future organizing wins and that the strength of the picket is dependent on the number of people there,” Romero said.

The picket line continues to extend around the country

As of the middle of November, Amazon Teamsters have continued extending the picket line across the country. The latest picket extended to the Long Island Amazon warehouse in New York. Earlier in the month, Amazon Teamsters picketed at an Amazon warehouse near Atlanta.  

According to a Teamsters press release, they have picketed over a dozen warehouses around the country, including facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Georgia. 

“You don’t let big corporations like these just strongman you, push you around, and act like they can just cut you one day and get another person the next. Because at the end of the day they need us more than we need them.”

Heath Lopez, striking Amazon driver

“To the little man, you know, don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in. Fight for what you believe.” Lopez told Undercurrents. “You don’t let big corporations like these just strongman you, push you around, and act like they can just cut you one day and get another person the next. Because at the end of the day they need us more than we need them.” 

This article was published online on December 2nd, 2023. It has been backdated to improve discoverability.

Donate to the Amazon Driver Worker Solidarity fund here.

Jacob Ragaza is a student at Pomona College. His scholarly focuses include counterinsurgency and anticolonial resistance throughout the Global South. His spare time is spent on attempting to dunk a basketball.

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Thanks for reading Undercurrents

Undercurrents reports on labor, Palestine liberation, prison abolition and other community organizing at and around the Claremont Colleges.

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