The Teamsters workers’ union has launched campaigns to organise employees in at least nine Canadian facilities of US e-commerce company Amazon, according to Reuters interviews with union officials.
The influential union took the first step earlier this week to organise employees at one of Amazon’s Canadian facilities, and the interviews reveal it is widening such efforts across the country, where the e-commerce company employs about 25,000 workers and plans to add 15,000 more.
The campaigns could be seen as a bet by the Teamsters that early success unionising employees in a more labour-friendly market such as Canada will inspire similar results south of the border, where Amazon has so far fended off unionisation attempts.
In the latest challenge to Amazon’s anti-unionisation stance, Edmonton, Alberta’s Teamsters Local Union 362 filed for a vote on union representation at a company fulfillment centre in nearby Nisku late on Monday.
Interviews with Teamsters units in other cities and provinces show that the union’s efforts stretch from the Pacific coastal province of British Columbia to the Canadian economic heartland in southern Ontario.
The Teamsters’ Edmonton unit says it has enough signed cards calling for a union to meet the 40 percent 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.
And two of the five units that confirmed to Reuters that they are organising said they are running campaigns at multiple sites, bringing the total Amazon facilities involved in some level of organising to at least nine.
“Any locals that have an Amazon facility in their area are doing an organising campaign,” Jim Killey, an organiser with Teamsters Local 879 near Hamilton, Ontario, told Reuters.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier in the week 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 represent “the voices of a select few,” he added.
The Teamsters say they can help the workers win better wages and benefits, such as leaves of absence.
Sleeping in their cars
Unionisation votes in Canada do not have any direct bearing on the United States, but they could raise enthusiasm, said John Logan, a labor professor at San Francisco State University.
“Organising at a place like Amazon requires workers to take a certain amount of risk,” Logan said. “If they can look to other places and see that that risk has paid off for other workers, then they are far more inclined to do it themselves.”
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.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which has more than a million members in the United States and Canada, has made organising Amazon a top priority, describing it as an “existential threat.”
Amazon does not have any unionised facilities in North America. The Teamsters is one of a handful of unions trying to undertake the daunting task of organizing its vast, high-churn workforce.
Earlier this year, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) lost a vote to organise workers in Bessemer, Alabama, by a more than two-to-one margin. Amazon pushed hard against unionization, and the result is being disputed.
The Teamsters have indicated they will not seek to hold such votes in the United States any time soon, arguing the process is unfairly tilted toward employers.
But in Canada, where labour laws are more favourable, the Teamsters see an opportunity to go straight to the ballot box.
The Teamsters’ Killey said his chapter is campaigning at Amazon facilities in Milton, Cambridge and Kitchener, all traditionally working-class towns just west of Toronto, Canada’s most populous city.
“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.
In British Columbia, Teamsters Local 31 President Stan Hennessy said potential members have been receptive.
“It’s our hope that we can help these workers,” he said. “They certainly can use some help.”
© Thomson Reuters 2021