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‘Our interest is to advocate for the workers’: Teamsters’ National Director for Amazon

In this article:
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Teamsters’ National Director for Amazon, Randy Korgan joined Yahoo Finance to break down his thoughts on Teamsters campaign to unionize Amazon workers and the health and safety of Amazon’s workers.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: So Randy, we'll go ahead and get started. I guess easy question up top, how did the resolution come about, and how is this vote different than the failed vote in Bessemer a few months ago?

RANDY KORGAN: I wouldn't characterize the vote in Bessemer as a failure. Those issues that those workers have brought forward are being discussed nationally as a result of the concerns that they brought there in Bessemer. You know, a large percentage of that membership there-- or excuse me, a large percentage of the workforce there had issues on the job. Amazon recognizes there's an issue there, and something needs to be done about it.

What's different about this is this is-- the Teamsters Union has represented this industry for more than 100 years. We've dealt with logistics, supply chain, all of the aspects from the beginning of production all the way to delivery at someone's door. You know, Amazon's getting a lot of credit for delivering to people's houses. You know, it goes all the way back to when there were horses in front of us and reins in our hands and, you know, we were running buggies around.

So we've transcended a lot of things throughout the last 100 years to help workers in this industry and to bring these jobs into the middle class. There was a lot of-- you know, millions of workers in these jobs over the last 100 years have benefited as a result of coming together and bringing their issues forward and asking their employer to give them a fair shake at the table.

What today signifies is, you know, every five years, our union gets together and talks about a policy from the previous five years and what we're going to do for the next five years. And at the end of the day, the membership, the leadership, the local unions itself, and the community alike are all coming together to support an initiative that makes sure that people doing jobs in the warehouse, transportation, and logistics industry are well taken care of and can support a middle class family.

AKIKO FUJITA: Part of the resolution calls for the Teamsters Union to fully fund and support the Amazon project, which, of course, you're a director of. How are you thinking about the scale and scope of this? How much money are you willing to spend, and how long do you think this campaign goes?

RANDY KORGAN: I think our greatest resource is our membership. We have more than 1 million members across the country that, obviously, have family members and are part of the-- intertwined into the community every single day. And so that resource, you can't put a dollar figure on it. It's pretty massive. Obviously, a lot of workers throughout this country in the last 100 years have done a lot of good things to create an eight-hour workday, to bring jobs into the middle class.

And I think this pandemic in the last 18 months has shown us that the general public respects how difficult it is to get product through the system, through transportation, and to your doorstep or to a retail outlet. And you know, it's a very important job. It's always been a very important job. And our message that will be broadly supported today, probably overwhelmingly supported by our delegates, will be about making sure that we're partnering up with communities, we're partnering up with individuals in the industry, and workers know that they have an ally, they have an advocate out there that's fighting for them and trying to make sure that they're not taken advantage of on the job.

AKIKO FUJITA: What do you see as the key priorities that need to be addressed, in terms of worker protections for those at Amazon?

RANDY KORGAN: Well, you can see, first and foremost, that the safety and health on the job for Amazon workers is at risk. Their injury rates are two to three times higher than the industry itself. You know, we were here before. 100 years ago, in the 1920s, there were zero worker protections on the job-- the people that were driving trucks and handling product, handling freight, making sure that the milkman delivered to your door.

We've been here before. Ironically, we're here again in the 2020s, where some companies and industries think it's OK to kind of, you know, create a very unsafe work environment. These things have been well established, well fought for, and, you know, we're going to continue to do what we got to do to help protect the physical interest and the well-being of individuals doing this job in this industry.

AKIKO FUJITA: As you think about how to address some of those concerns the workers have raised, how much of this is about forcing the hand of Amazon through means that aren't necessarily about unionization? So if you look at the fight for 15, for example, the campaign didn't necessarily find success in unionizing fast food workers, but it was successful in pushing for legislation in states at the very local level to raise the minimum wage. Are-- how are you thinking about that aspect of it, beyond unionization, to get to those specific goals that you've laid out? Is part of this to pressure Amazon at the local level?

RANDY KORGAN: I think that's a great question. You know, first and foremost, when we talk about the minimum wage, workers that are working at Amazon doing this job, individuals just like them doing very similar jobs in America are making two to three times what workers are making at Amazon with great benefits and, most importantly, great worker protections on the job. And they're not getting hurt as much, they're not getting injured as much, they're not getting in accidents as much because, you know, those issues have been dealt with primarily through a collective bargaining agreement or through some legislative action.

So at the end of the day, it's really not so much about pressuring Amazon. It's really about educating a workforce so that they understand that they have options. Most people that come-- go to work at Amazon, it's their first entry into that industry. They're just new to it. They didn't work in warehouses before. They didn't-- they weren't a delivery driver before.

And at the end of the day, sometimes employers, and it appears that Amazon, doesn't make them feel like they're worth a lot. And then as they do the job, they recognize how difficult the job is, and they start to look around and say, hey, you know, this is a tough job. And it's obviously a necessary job for our economy. It's got to get done. You know, this is pretty tough on the body, this is tough on the mind, and we got to make sure we have a safe environment.

Those protections can be done at the local level. City officials, board of supervisors, everybody that's around that's making these decisions with developers, they have the ability to hold the industry, companies like Amazon accountable right at the local level. This is something that's happening-- starting-- already happening across the country.

And so, you know, we-- the Teamsters Union is part of the everyday community. We are coaching baseball-- our members are coaching baseball right next to these workers that work at Amazon. We're neighbors. We're friends. We're relatives. And we've been there for 100 years, and we're going to be there for 100 more.

AKIKO FUJITA: Let me ask you one final question here. What would be in it for an anti-union employer like Amazon to voluntarily recognize a union? And ultimately, how do you get to that point of recognition when you're talking about Amazon?

RANDY KORGAN: Well, I think that Amazon-- you know, Amazon is looking at this as if they understand everything about the industry. Clearly, we've been around for 100 years, and we've dealt with a lot of things in this industry. We've seen things come and go. And so at the end of the day, what Amazon could benefit from is our long history of understanding how to deal with these issues that go on with workers. Our interest is to advocate for workers in this industry and to try to make sure that they're taken care of and they-- and that their family is OK.

You know, Amazon can learn from us and our very long, rich history of dealing with the challenges that come with this industry, the ebbs and flows of what happens in this industry. And we-- obviously, we've seen it for 100 years. We've dealt with some major technological challenges. We've transitioned them, helped the members and workers transition through them, helped to create worker protections that were in the best interest of not just the worker, but also the employer in the end. And so ultimately, to seek recognition and get workers under our collective bargaining agreement, those are strategies in which we're keeping a little bit closer to the vest. But at the end of the day, you can see that the union and our organization is fully committed to partner up with workers in this industry.

AKIKO FUJITA: Randy Korgan, really appreciate you joining us today. Thank you so much for your time.

RANDY KORGAN: Thank you for having us on.