November 17, 2021 - No. 108

Defending the Public Interest by Upholding Workers' Rights

Public Sector Workers Reach Tentative Agreement with New Brunswick Government

Alberta Amazon Plants Apply for Union Certification - Peggy Morton
For Your Information: Union Certification in Alberta

Defending the Public Interest by Upholding Workers' Rights

Public Sector Workers Reach Tentative Agreement with New Brunswick Government

On November 13, the Canadian Union of Public Employees-New Brunswick (CUPE NB) announced that a tentative agreement has been reached between the eleven union locals on the centralized bargaining team and the provincial government. The eleventh local joined the original ten when the Alcool NB Liquor (ANBL) workers voted strongly in favour of strike action on November 9. Those workers were scheduled to strike November 16, but have reached a tentative agreement with ANBL on non-monetary issues.

The CUPE workers went on strike on October 29 for wages they deem acceptable and essential to solving the recruitment and retention problem facing public services. They were also opposed to the government's demands for concessions from workers in two education locals, to accept the conversion of their defined benefit pension plan into a shared risk plan in which pension benefits can be cut if the plan is declared underfunded. These 22,000 workers include road maintenance and park workers, correctional officers, social workers, court reporters, laundry workers, bus drivers and custodians in schools, education assistants, patient care workers and food and environmental service workers in hospitals.

In its press release, CUPE NB announced that the tentative wage agreement will be submitted to the members of each local later this week. On the issue of the employer's demand for concessions on pensions, both locals have reached a Memorandum of Understanding with the government which will also be submitted to the membership later this week. Voting results are to be announced at a CUPE press conference on Friday, November 19 at 11:00 am.

Meanwhile, workers have returned to work and the government has reopened the schools it had closed as a provocative tactic to try to turn families against striking workers, suddenly imposing e-learning. It had locked out striking education workers, accusing them of making teaching impossible at school. This tactic failed miserably, with parents strongly denouncing that tactic and expressing their support for the striking workers.

In the meantime the union is going forward with its lawsuit against the government with regard to the November 5 emergency order announced by the Minister of Justice and Public Safety that forced health care workers back to work, using the powers under the province's Emergency Measures Act. A state of emergency was declared on September 24 in response to rising COVID-19 cases and the government accused the workers of threatening the health and safety of the people. The lawsuit argues that the order violated the workers' right to freedom of association and that the hefty fines constitute "cruel and unusual punishment," which contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

From the beginning, the workers and people of New Brunswick have been calling for a solution to the public service crisis that defends the public interest by defending workers' rights. They reject the state's use of repression and criminalization of workers which is shown in the large and small actions across the province, including mass demonstrations that were amongst the largest in the province's history.

In a conversation with Workers' Forum, CUPE NB President Steve Drost spoke of the overwhelming support of New Brunswick workers and residents in their fight for their rights:

"It was an amazing experience. It was very difficult for the workers who had to go on strike but as each day progressed more and more of the public got behind the workers. We felt it was quite an attack by the government to try and get the public to be upset with the workers but it seemed to backfire on them. People were able to see though their propaganda and they realized that these workers were simply fighting for their rights. We had a rally on Friday, November 12, with close to 2,000 people at the Legislature. There were parents, students, teachers, other union groups and other professional associations who joined us. The public support and the support of other professions and unions was growing on a daily basis. We felt that we were able to find a compromise that both parties can live with and I am feeling good that our members will feel they were well represented."

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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)

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For Your Information: Union Certification in Alberta

The Alberta Labour Relations Code was amended by the United Conservative Party (UCP) government in 2020 to require a vote for all union certifications. A union may apply for certification for a unit once at least 40 per cent of the employees have signed cards within the previous 90 days indicating their support for the union certification. A board-supervised vote is required even when a majority of workers have signed cards.

The Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) previously had the power to certify a union without a vote in the case of clear misconduct of an employer -- for example, firing workers who were identified as leaders in the organizing drive. The UCP removed this power. Instead of certifying the union, the Board must order a new vote and certify without a vote "only if no other remedy or remedies would be sufficient to counteract the effects of the prohibited practices."

On receiving an application, the Board conducts an investigation to determine that the applicant is a trade union, the unit applied for is an appropriate unit for collective bargaining, the application is timely, and that the union has the support of at least 40 per cent of employees in the unit.

The Board explains the investigation process as follows: "When a union files a certification application, a Board officer conducts an impartial investigation. The officer speaks to the employer and the union. The officer may also speak to individual employees. The officer requires the union and the employer to produce records relating to the application, such as employee and membership lists. The officer then writes a report outlining whether or not the application meets the Code's requirements for certification. This report is presented to the parties (who may object to some of all of its findings) and a panel of Board members. The panel conducts a hearing and decides whether or not the application meets the requirements of the Code. If so, the panel orders an employee vote. If a majority of the employees voting vote in favour of the union, the union is certified."

There is no time limit set for the Board to conduct a vote.[1] The legislation states that "the Board shall make its final decision whether to grant the application for certification no later than six months after the date of the application", although in "exceptional circumstances," which are not defined, the Chair of the ALRB can approve an extension beyond six months.

Mandatory certification votes and extended timelines for the Labour Board to call a vote gives employers the opportunity for union-busting, allowing employers to carry out campaigns of intimidation and to spread false information, including at sessions which workers must attend. The campaign at Amazon is taking place in the face of all these difficulties which governments who serve the oligarchs have put in place.


1. Legislation enacted by the NDP in 2018 established a time limit of 20 or 25 working days after an application was filed for the Board to make a decision, with a limited power of the Chair to extend the time limit. It also provided for certification without a vote, but with a high bar, requiring at least 65 per cent of the workers, not a simple majority, to sign union cards.

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