First Canadian Amazon warehouse unionizes

by Inside Logistics Online Staff

An Amazon warehouse in Laval, Que., has become the first in Canada to be unionized, with the decision coming May 10 from the Administrative Labor Tribunal (TAT) to accredit the Amazon Laval–CSN Workers’ Union.

After carrying out its investigation, the court ruled that the majority of employees at the DXT4 warehouse chose to join their union in order to begin negotiations leading to a first collective agreement.

“First and foremost, it is a very big victory for women and men from Latin America, Chad, the Maghreb, and Asia, who were not afraid to stand up to ensure their rights are respected,” Caroline Senneville, president of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), said in a press release. “It’s a lesson in courage that DXT4 employees have just demonstrated. We obviously hope that it will snowball.”

On April 19, the CSN filed a request with the TAT to represent the 200 employees of Amazon’s DXT4 warehouse, rue Ernest-Cormier in Laval. During the previous weeks, employees had joined their union in large numbers.

According to the CSN, comments made by the employees revealed several factors to explain their dissatisfaction with their working conditions, including exaggerated work rates, deficient health and safety measures, and lower salaries than the remuneration offered in the warehouse and distribution centre sector in Quebec.

CSN indicated that prior to the TAT’s decision, Amazon lawyers announced their intention to challenge the constitutionality of article 28 of the Quebec Labour Code. In correspondence addressed to the court, the CSN and the attorney general, Amazon claims the TAT’s ability to recognize the representative nature of a union is contrary to the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms “because it violates the right to its employees to freedom of association by potentially depriving them of choosing their representatives.”

In the coming days, the union will hold a first general meeting to establish its statutes and regulations and elect its union representatives. A consultation process will subsequently be carried out with employees in order to lay the foundations of a first collective agreement. Under the Quebec Labour Code, Amazon now has a legal obligation to negotiate such a collective employment contract.

Unionization in B.C.

In April, Unifor filed with the B.C. Labour Relations Board (BCLRB) to form a union for two facilities in Metro Vancouver, but soon after withdrew its application due to “a suspiciously high number of reported employees.”

“Make no mistake: workers at Amazon in Metro Vancouver are closer than ever to successfully forming a union,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor western regional director. “The number of workers provided by Amazon is suspiciously high, but with this information we know precisely what our next steps are to help these workers form their union.”

B.C. law doesn’t compel employers to provide any information about the number of workers onsite during a union drive, leaving unions to guess the threshold of signed cards they ought to meet before applying to the BCLRB for certification.

“We’re not going anywhere. Unifor is committed to the hundreds of workers at Amazon who have signed a confidential union card and will re-double our efforts in the coming weeks,” McGarrigle said.

Unifor has repeatedly called for changes to the B.C. Labour Relations Code to improve employer transparency during the unionization process, including in its recent submission to the labour code review.

“When working people are up against giant, well-funded multinational employers, we need more tools to help level the playing field,” said McGarrigle. “Transparency is not too much to ask. The B.C. government should close this loophole as soon as possible.”

The applications were filed April 10 for the fulfilment centres at 109 Braid Street in New Westminster and 450 Derwent Place in Delta.