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'Amazon won't change without a union': Canadian warehouse files for union vote

EconomySep 14, 2021 07:11PM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics centre in Boves, France, August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo

By Moira Warburton

(Reuters) -Workers at one of Inc (NASDAQ:AMZN)'s Canadian facilities have filed a request with a local labor board to hold a vote to form a union, Teamsters Canada said on Tuesday, in the latest challenge to the company, which has discouraged collective action in the past.

Teamsters Local Union 362 filed for a vote on union representation at an Amazon fulfillment center in Nisku, Alberta, late on Monday, according to Teamsters Canada, which represents 125,000 workers in different industries across the country.

Efforts to unionize Amazon workers in the United States have failed But experts say Canada is generally seen as more pro-union, particularly in light of several major COVID-19 outbreaks at Amazon facilities during the pandemic, including several outside of Toronto that led public health officials to shut down warehouses.

The application for all Amazon employees employed at the facility as of Monday to vote on forming a union must be verified by the Alberta Labor Relations Board, the Teamsters statement said. It was unclear when the vote would take place.

Amazon said when opening the warehouse in Nisku, less than 30 km (19 miles) south of Edmonton, that it would employ around 600 people.

Teamsters Canada is affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents 1.5 million people in North America. In June the international organization said it would make unionizing Amazon a priority.

"Amazon won't change without a union," François Laporte, national president of Teamsters Canada, said in the statement. "The company has proven itself to be profoundly anti-worker."

Amazon Canada spokesperson Dave Bauer said in an emailed statement: "As a company, we don't think unions are the best answer for our employees."

Unions would prevent the company from changing quickly to meet employees' needs and represented "the voices of a select few," he added.

Amazon earlier this year fended off an attempt by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) to organize workers in Bessemer, Alabama. A U.S. labor board official has recommended the vote at the facility should be redone due to Amazon setting up its own ballot collection boxes, but a final decision on a new vote has not yet been made.

Amazon workers rejected the union attempt in Alabama by a more than 2-to-1 margin. The company actively opposed the union, touted a pay scale above average in the area and said employees favored a "direct connection" with managers and the company.

Teamsters Canada is "prepared for anything" that Amazon might do to deter unionization, said spokesperson Christopher Monette.

Unionization efforts at the Nisku facility began in the summer and have received a huge amount of support, including a petition signed by "hundreds" of workers at the warehouse, Monette said.

The Canadian chapter is "closely coordinating" with its American counterpart, he added.

Randy Korgan, national director for Amazon with Teamsters in the United States, said they will watch the outcome in Alberta closely.

Efforts at the Nisku warehouse began due to a high level of interest in unionizing after initial outreach, said Chance Hrycun, an official with the Teamsters Local 362, combined with a large workforce that carries out physically demanding shifts for lower pay.

Teamsters unions across Canada have posted on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) about their outreach to Amazon workers in recent months. Teamsters Local 987, which represents other workers in Alberta, wrote in a post in July that the group had spoken with "over 600 Amazon employees who are ready for change."

Stephanie Ross, director of the School of Labour Studies at McMaster University in Ontario, said that while Canada has a much friendlier environment towards unions than the United States, Alberta has one of Canada's more hostile labour environments.

In addition, penalties remain low for employers who break laws defining unionization processes, Ross said.

Nevertheless, timelines for unionizations in Canada are mandated, meaning employers can only drag their feet so much, she added.

In addition, provincial labour boards in Canada can automatically certify a union, in a process known as remedial certification, if the board decides an employer has interfered with the vote, although Ross said this is rare.

'Amazon won't change without a union': Canadian warehouse files for union vote

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