Canadian unions target Amazon with union drives

Amazon Labour Union tactics included projecting “VOTE YES!” on outside of Amazon building

AMAZON HAS A UNION TARGET on its back in Canada. Two unions in two provinces are out to unionize three Amazon workplaces here: one in Quebec, one in Ontario and one in Alberta.

A win by any one of them will be a first in Canada and only the second time Amazon workers in North America have stood up to the notorious no-holds-barred Amazon union busting to join a union. Getting a win won’t be easy: both because of Amazon union-busting and because of the boss-friendly labour laws in Ontario and Alberta.

Labour law hurdles

Both provinces make workers go through a two-step process to join a union. First, 40% of workers in a workplace has to sign cards confirming they want to join a given union. Then, the employer gets a chance to convince the board the union failed to meet that mark. If the board agrees, it will not go ahead and carry out a second vote by the workers to “certify” the union.

In Quebec it is a one-step process: sign up a majority of workers and you’ve got your union.

Second Teamster try in Alberta

The Teamsters Local 362 drive at an Amazon warehouse in Nisku, Alberta—just outside Edmonton—is the farthest long. The union is waiting on the labour board to decide if the cards it has submitted are enough to proceed to a final certification vote.

The board rejected an earlier Local 362 application for a vote in September 2021.

Richard Brown, president and business agent of Local 362, is confident the board will grant them a certification vote this time. “We were able to hit our target numbers a lot sooner than we did in September,” he says, “showing that people have interest and are looking for change,”

“The company inflated their numbers when we made our application, including lists of employees who had not worked there for three months,” Local 362 secretary treasurer Bernie Haggarty later told CTV News.

Athabasca University labour studies professor Bob Barnetson said the union should have been prepared for the company to inflate the workforce numbers.

That said, it’s common for a union to file as soon as possible, so that even if they fail, they receive a list of all the workers at the workplace, which they can then use to convince a majority to get on board.

“They roll the dice, they fail. They come back many days later, or whatever the timeline is, but now they have a full list,” Barnetson explained.

Teamsters in Ontario

Teamsters Local 879 is in the early stages of organizing workers at the Amazon Mountain Fulfillment Centre in Hamilton, which just opened in April. The union has been leafleting outside, as well as at Amazon locations in ​​Milton, Cambridge, Kitchener and London.

The local says it’s responding to workers’ complaints about a lack of breaks, cuts to time off and being docked for the amount of time it takes to walk to the bathroom.

Organizers promise a “Canada-wide” Teamsters-led union drive.

CSN in Quebec

In Quebec the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) has launched an organizing drive at an Amazon warehouse in Montreal.

Workers are concerned about pay—at least eight dollars an hour lower than comparable jobs—as well as health and safety issues. The workers have to lift upwards of 400 boxes an hour.

“It’s like a jungle in there, a lot of people are getting injured,” CSN vice-president David Bergeron-Cyr told the CBC.

“Most of them are first-generation immigrants and they don’t know their rights and don’t speak French. They don’t go to the CNESST—our health and safety commission—to get paid.’

Brock University labour studies professor Jordan House says it was the grassroots, worker-to-worker contacts that brought victory to the worker-created Amazon Labour Union (ALU) in Staten Island, New York.

“The ALU has proven that one of the most powerful anti-union companies in North America can be unionized. This doesn’t mean that the already established unions can’t beat Amazon, but as the ALU has made clear, inside workers have to take the lead,” House wrote.

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