Alberta Amazon Plants Apply for Union Certification

Locals 362 and 987 of Teamsters Canada have filed for certification to represent workers at Amazon's "fulfillment centres" in Nisku (Edmonton) and Calgary, both located near the city airports. Teamsters Local 362 filed for the Nisku warehouse on September 14 and Local 987 applied for certification for the Calgary warehouse on October 19. Teamsters launched the organizing campaign at the June 2021 Convention of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Dozens of local unions are engaged in organizing in both Canada and the U.S.

The applications for union certification at both Alberta locations are now before the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB). The applications are at the consideration stage in which the ALRB meets with the union and the employer to determine if the application has been properly made, and if so, sets a date for a Board-supervised representation vote.

Workers’ Forum congratulates Locals 362 and 987 for their achievement in being the first to file applications for union certification for Amazon warehouses, or "fulfillment centres" as Amazon calls them.

State Support for Amazon's Union-Busting Tactics

Anti-worker legislation introduced by the United Conservative Party (UCP) government in 2020 requires a board-supervised vote even when a majority of workers have signed union cards. It gives the Alberta Labour Relations Board six months, with provisions for extensions, to verify cards, hold a vote and make a final determination. This provides employers potentially months to spread false information and to threaten, intimidate, and bully workers and single out organizers. Workers in Calgary have reported that the employer has held small meetings to say they knew who had signed union cards.

A representative of Teamsters Local 362 told Workers' Forum that they remain very vigilant in the face of Amazon's virulent anti-union history.

The union has filed unfair labour practices complaints concerning Amazon's actions at both the Calgary and Nisku warehouses. Amazon has been repeatedly found guilty of unfair labour practices in both Canada and the U.S. but is allowed to carry on with impunity. Governments criminalize workers and their collectives and impose enormous fines and other unjust penalties for their actions in defence of their rights and dignity, all carried out at lightning speed. But when the oligopolies violate labour law, labour boards and courts operate at a snail's pace, if at all. Governments justify these attacks on workers’ rights on the grounds that private interests like Amazon are the creators of wealth whose claims have to be met and the workers are a cost to be kept in check.

Amazon's actions at its Bessemer, Alabama facility where a unionization vote was not successful are a good example. The U.S. National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) found that Amazon interfered with the unionization vote; it had a mailbox installed to collect ballots and distributed paraphernalia encouraging employees to vote against organizing. An NLRB regional director's decision on whether to order a new vote is expected soon.

The NLRB reported that Amazon installed security cameras overlooking the mailbox, creating the impression that employees were under surveillance. A tent erected around the mailbox adorned with a company campaign slogan, while not enough on its own to invalidate the vote, amounted to electioneering that tainted the election, the NLRB found. Amazon distributed "vote no" pins and other anti-organizing paraphernalia to employees in the presence of managers and supervisors, and held mandatory meetings to try to influence the vote, sent text messages to workers and even displayed campaign literature in bathroom stalls. Pending a decision on a re-vote, Amazon has also launched a new aggressive anti-union campaign in Bessemer, which includes officials walking the warehouse floor asking workers how they feel about a union.

Amazon Workers Speak Out

Amazon workers, former and active, are speaking out in their own name to expose their brutal working conditions, as well as Amazon's union-busting tactics, and to defend their rights and dignity. Amazon is notorious for outrageous work quotas, constant monitoring of every move a worker makes, its high rate of serious workplace injuries and its negligence in protecting workers from COVID-19.

Former Amazon workers from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) have spoken out about how the company retaliated against workers trying to organize a union for drivers. Amazon uses sub-contractors to deliver packages, an arrangement that it has used to stop the workers from organizing by ending the contract with a company where the workers have unionized.

"When the company realized I had started to talk to the other drivers about having a union, they started an anti-union campaign," a worker told the Fifth Estate. "The company called an all-hands-on-deck meeting." The company owner said that Amazon would cut off the company and give the work to another company, the worker said. The worker was fired, and even though the Ontario Labour Board ordered him reinstated, on his return to work he was left sitting in the parking lot while his Amazon badge remained deactivated.

Another worker explained that after 75 per cent of the workers at his company voted for a union, the company declared bankruptcy after Amazon gave the work to another company.

Workers have spoken out about the large and repeated outbreaks of COVID-19 at warehouses. Amazon was finally forced to close its Brampton, Ontario, Heritage Road facility by public health authorities after at least 600 workers were infected by COVID-19. The warehouse was in outbreak from October 2020 to March 2021. Amazon fought the order. Amazon's Nisku warehouse was in outbreak status for a total of five and a half months during the first year of the pandemic, with at least 100 cases, but was allowed to remain open the entire time. Amazon's actions clearly show that the oligarchs who control such empires consider workers to be disposable, and how governments facilitate their reckless disregard for the well-being of their workers.

Another trick in union-busting is to make vague announcements about future improvements to wages and working conditions. The day before the application for union certification was filed for the Nisku warehouse, Amazon announced that it would raise the starting hourly rate for its "frontline" workers from around $17 to "up to" $21.65. But workers spoke out to say that they might end up with an actual pay cut because the bonus program, based on attendance and sales numbers for each facility, had been eliminated. What "up to" means is anyone's guess, and Amazon's suggestions that hiring more staff would reduce workloads is meaningless in the face of its sky-high staff turnover.

While working conditions at Amazon's "fulfillment centres," and for workers who deliver Amazon packages further deteriorated during the pandemic, Amazon had record revenues and profit in 2020, with annual revenue up 38 per cent to U.S.$386 billion, a yearly increase of over U.S.$100 billion. Net profit for Amazon was up 84 per cent for the year as compared to 2019 and the personal wealth of its founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, reached U.S.$206.9 billion, Forbes reported. These are blatant examples that show that this huge deployment of productive forces cannot be left in private hands that have control of the state and its institutions. 

Workers' Forum calls on everyone to stand with the Amazon workers for the success of their efforts to organize and to uphold their right to decide wages and working conditions acceptable to them.

(With files from CBC, Forbes, Reuters, Teamsters Amazon, Truthout)

This article was published in

November 17, 2021 - No. 108

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