Workplace

Amazon wants new delivery centers in the Bay Area. Big Labor might stop it.

Labor unions have successfully stopped plans for new Amazon delivery centers across the Bay Area. Now they’re trying to do the same in downtown San Francisco.

Line of Amazon trucks

A number of municipalities in California have started to impose moratoriums on new delivery centers.

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Like most people living in big cities, San Francisco residents want free and fast delivery — the freer and the faster, the better. Amazon wants to do that for them. But the company is now facing major opposition to its plan to build a large, new fulfillment center in the Mission Bay neighborhood.

The unions that represent truckers and grocery workers see the plan for the 7th Street facility as a threat to their future.

The two groups (which include tens of thousands of workers in the Bay Area), alongside other labor activists in San Francisco, have persuaded one of the city’s most important local politicians to try to put a moratorium on the future 7th Street development, as well as any other package delivery facilities in the city. San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton introduced legislation on Feb. 15 that would set new interim zoning rules to put an 18-month pause on delivery facilities in the city, including the Amazon project.

While neither Amazon nor Walton’s office responded to repeated requests for comment, Jim Araby, the strategic campaigns director for the UFCW local, told Protocol that he’s confident the Board of Supervisors will support the legislation.

Amazon has historically been welcomed into communities for providing jobs and speedy package delivery, but a number of municipalities in California have started to impose moratoriums like the one proposed in San Francisco, often after the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union lobby for the proposal. Contra Costa County set a moratorium on all new fulfillment centers in December; the city of Hayward forbade Amazon from considering two sites there; and the San Jose City Council vetoed a proposed distribution center in November. Most of the moratoriums use similar language, ordering temporary pauses on all development and expansion of delivery centers while it’s determined whether they have a measurable impact on traffic and noise, light and emissions pollution.

Despite their critical rhetoric toward Amazon, the Teamsters are actually dependent on the company for much of the business their truckers perform. Amazon contracts with UPS for many of its deliveries, and UPS workers are unionized with the Teamsters. So, as Amazon package delivery grows, UPS gets more business from Amazon, which equals more business for Teamsters’ workers. “UPS had their most profitable year in company history last year, and they have the ability to take those profits and put it back in the profits of our members, and to buy electric trucks, those are all good things. So we are not against Amazon,” Doug Bloch, the representative for more than 100,000 teamsters in California and Nevada, said.

But Amazon is the nation’s second-largest employer, and most of the new jobs it continues to add are in warehousing and delivery. No Amazon employees are unionized, meaning that workers entering those career paths at Amazon don’t interact with or join the Teamsters or the UFCW. Union fights are ongoing in Bessemer, Alabama — where Amazon won an election last year and is now facing a redo because of its illegal interference — and in Staten Island, where two warehouses may soon face their first election.

The Teamsters also voted last year to make organizing Amazon workers a national priority (though they likely won’t try to form formal unions immediately), and the plan doesn’t just include opposing new facilities in California. The union is currently lobbying for warehouse-worker transparency bills in a number of states, including Washington.

Both the Teamsters and the UFCW, which employ thousands of San Franciscans between them, said they joined together to push for all of these prohibitions and moratoriums because they want to force Amazon to include and deal with unionized labor in the planned San Francisco location. “What we’ve made clear to the politicians is, if this project goes through, and it’s a big if, it should be built union, and everybody that works in there should have the opportunity to join together in a union,” Bloch said. He also said that this is just the beginning of planned continued opposition to the company’s development goals.

The proposed Amazon center would take over a site previously used for San Francisco’s recycling and solid-waste company, Recology, meaning that the area is already zoned for industrial use. The site is controversial not just for the union workers (most of the workers at the previous Recology site were unionized), but also for local residents who are invested in the project because Recology originally proposed using the site for affordable housing units.

“The Bay Area is not Alabama. We have union jobs here, we have union density in this area,” Araby said. “We are going to use all of our tools in our toolbox to have Amazon understand that they are going to have to deal with [organized] labor in the community.”

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