Teamsters launch union drives at up to nine Amazon operations

Chance Hrycun, member Teamsters Local 362

THE TEAMSTERS UNION ISN’T FUCKING AROUND. It intends to unionize all of Amazon. It thinks Canada is the best place to begin that battle.

The Teamsters have active campaigns in at least nine Amazon operations in Canada. The possibility of winning one, or all, of those campaigns is much higher in Canada because our laws make union votes less open to blatant interference from the employer.

The Teamster strategy seems to be that winning any union recognition—even in Canada—will give a big boost to any future efforts to organize at Amazon in the U.S.A. Amazon has so far defeated all unionization attempts in North America. Some Amazon workers in Italy and Germany are unionized.

Filed for vote

Teamsters Edmonton Local Union 362 filed for a vote on union representation at the Amazon YEG 1 Fulfillment center in Nisku, Alberta late on September 13.

The Teamsters’ Edmonton unit says it has enough signed cards calling for a union to meet the 40 per cent threshold to require a vote. Two of the union’s units in Ontario and one in Alberta have confirmed they are signing membership cards with Amazon workers.

“Amazon workers need to know they now have some protection under the law," says secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local Union 362, Bernie Haggarty.

"The company cannot simply fire them or change their working conditions during the union certification process. They also cannot actively interfere with their decision on how to vote. Coercion, intimidation, threats, promises or undue influence are strictly prohibited,”

Two of the five Teamster units are running campaigns at multiple sites, bringing the total Amazon facilities involved in some level of organizing to at least nine.

“Any locals that have an Amazon facility in their area are doing an organizing campaign,” Jim Killey, an organizer with Teamsters Local 879 near Hamilton, Ontario, told Reuters news agency.

Discrimination key issue

Discrimination and favouritism are major concerns at YEG 1. Large numbers of Amazon workers signed union cards because they felt they got less favourable assignments due to their ethnic background or their relationship with their superiors. Most of the frontline workers at YEG 1 are new Canadians and visible minorities, whereas almost all of the supervisors are white

The workload for the warehouse workers is intense. They are required to pick an item every 9 to 12 seconds, and those who fall behind face discipline. The intense workload also leads to a high injury rate—lower back and knee pain is frequent, even among fit young workers.

There are two key issues at the Nisku warehouse. First, the lack of job security stemming from not being able to keep with unreasonable work demands. And second, the health and safety issues stemming from these same unreasonable demands.

And what about wages? Amazon warehouse workers in Canada start at around $16 or $17 an hour. But workers at Teamster-unionized warehouses see their wages progress up to between $24.50 and $31.93 an hour.

Sleeping in their cars

Union members are going to great lengths to connect with Amazon workers, sleeping in their cars to catch the employees after graveyard shifts and forging ties at local churches.

“Where we see there is a lot of support, we’re going to go full steam ahead,” said Christopher Monette, spokesperson for Teamsters Canada.

Jason Sweet, president of Teamsters Local 419 in Ontario, said his unit has begun signing cards with workers in the greater Toronto area and has formed WhatsApp groups with Amazon workers to keep them abreast of the union’s efforts, delivering updates every 48 hours or so. “We are trying to build relationships from the inside,” he said.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has more than 1.4 million members in the U.S.A. and Canada. It says it has made organizing Amazon a top priority, describing it as an “existential threat.”

The Teamsters have an unequalled history of great union victories. The possibility that they can add Amazon to that list is as real as that history.

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