Why it’s so tough for labor unions to organize Amazon Prime drivers

Tooling around town in dark blue Prime uniforms and vans, many of the drivers who deliver packages for Amazon might look like employees of the e-commerce giant. But in reality, they’re employees of independent companies that contract with Amazon to deliver packages through its Delivery Service Partners program.

Four years after the DSP program launched, there are now 3,000 of these delivery companies in 14 countries, delivering 10 million Amazon packages daily and employing 275,000 drivers collectively, Amazon says.

As a benchmark, that means drivers for Amazon DSP companies now outnumber the 270,000 members of the National Association of Letter Carriers, who work for the U.S. Postal Service. At the current pace, it’s easy to imagine the total number of Amazon DSP drivers someday surpassing the 350,000 UPS employees who are members of the Teamsters International union.1

Perhaps more than a juicy burger at a Labor Day picnic, the prospect of organizing a workforce that big would normally make union leaders salivate.

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But there’s a catch: Amazon generally limits each DSP delivery company to 40 vans, max. A full-scale DSP operation employs 40-100 people at most, as outlined in Amazon’s pitch to prospective DSP business owners.

“While this is different than FedEx’s independent contractor model that precludes unionization, it still makes organizing these drivers very difficult,” wrote National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric V. Rolando in his biennial report to NALC members, published in the August edition of The Postal Record magazine.

The reason, Rolando explained, is that “a union would need to organize anywhere between five and 15 companies at each facility—while also successfully hiding these efforts from Amazon, which can and will cancel contracts with DSPs with little warning and no explanation.”

There’s a whole other category of drivers who would be even more difficult (if not impossible) to unionize: the independent contractors who deliver packages in their own vehicles as part of the Amazon Flex program.

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