Amazon faces union vote in Edmonton
Teamsters’ application part of effort to challenge working conditions at Canadian facilities
Teamsters Canada, the union representing 125,000 workers across the country, has filed an application for a union vote at Amazon’s Edmonton warehouse — paving the way for what could be a landmark organizing effort at the e-commerce giant’s Canadian facilities.
If granted by Alberta’s labour relations board, the union vote will be the
first at an Amazon warehouse in Canada, said Teamsters’ director of public affairs, Christopher Monette.
The application, filed Monday afternoon according to the union, is part of an effort to challenge working conditions at fulfilment centres across the country.
“Amazon won’t change without a union,” said Teamsters Canada national president François Laporte in a statement. “Amazon workers need to know they are not alone and they have the power, through the Teamsters, to change things for the better.”
Amazon Canada spokesperson Dave Bauer said the company’s employees “have the choice of whether or not to join a union.”
“They always have,” Bauer said. “As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes — quickly.
Bauer said “continuous improvement” is “harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle,” adding that “direct relationships between managers and employees” allow “every employee’s voice to be heard.”
The sprawling one-millionsquare-foot Amazon fulfilment centre is in Nisku, an industrial area south of Edmonton known for manufacturing pipefitting equipment and other fixtures for the energy industry. Amazon said when it opened in 2020 the facility would employee about 600 people.
On Tuesday, a handful of Teamsters organizers were outside the facility handing out flyers to workers as they funnelled out of the facility before the shift change.
Chance Hrycun, vice-president and business agent with General Teamsters Local 362, said workers have complained about favouritism among supervisors, unfavourable work conditions and poor wages.
He said a lot of workers have expressed tentative support but there’s a fear of reprisal from Amazon if they speak publicly.
“Right now if you’re a worker working for $16 an hour for a company that made $80 billion last year, it’s very difficult to not have fear for your job if you’re going to come out” and speak out, he said.
Teamsters’ Canadian arm is a division of the U.S.-headquartered union, which announced its intention to organize Amazon warehouses across the continent earlier this year. South of the border, Teamsters represents over a million workers in a number of sectors, including trucking and logistics.
A high-profile and hotly contested union drive launched by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., failed to secure enough votes earlier this year.
But the results were contested by the union, which alleged voter intimidation and illegal interference. Amazon has denied the allegations, but a National Labor Relations Board officer in the U.S. has recommended the election be rerun.
In its statement, Teamsters Canada said it expected Amazon to “bend the rules” during the union drive, noting that the company does not have the right to “actively interfere with (workers’) decision on how to vote.”
Working conditions at the company’s warehouses, particularly during the pandemic, are under growing scrutiny. Last year, a Star investigation found a large proportion of injuries at the company’s warehouses were caused by overexertion and repetitive motion, with workers complaining of untenable productivity quotas and limited ability to take breaks.
A worker who was leaving the Nisku facility who chose not to share his name said he doesn’t feel Amazon respects workers because he consistently feels pressured to prioritize efficiency over safety.
“They always say we’re going for safety but they never do. When there is more work, they always go for more work, not for the quality and safety at all,” the man said Tuesday.
“When it comes to work, you have to complete the units. And they always say do safe work, but at the same time, you have to (work) fast. If I have to work fast, how can I concentrate on my safety? They always pressure us,” he added.
On Monday, Amazon announced it was boosting wages for front-line staff at fulfilment centres. But it also cancelled a bonus payout program, “meaning that many Amazon workers are doubtful that the new raise will actually translate to more money on their paycheques,” the Teamsters statement said.
In a statement, Bauer said Amazon has made “great progress in recent years and months in important areas like pay and safety.”
Teamsters Canada is mobilizing in the GTA, too, with Mississauga-based union Local 419 president Jason Sweet calling unionization a “matter of dignity and respect.”
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has also made inroads, backing the establishment of Brampton-based Warehouse Workers Centre, which is aimed at providing support and resources in a low-paid and often dangerous sector. Only eight per cent of GTA warehouses are currently unionized, and many rely heavily on temp agency staff.
Unions must show at least 40 per cent of workers have signed union cards in order to apply to the Alberta Labour Relations Board for certification. The board then conducts a hearing to determine whether the application is valid. If so, a secret ballot vote is ordered.
With a union vote under consideration, Amazon workers “now have legal protection against reprisal from the employer on an individual level,” said Jason Foster, an associate professor of human resources and labour relations at Athabasca University.
“We don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs.”
AMAZON CANADA SPOKESPERSON