May 24, 2024
Union takes step to represent Amazon warehouse workers in Laval, Que. | CBC News

Union takes step to represent Amazon warehouse workers in Laval, Que. | CBC News

A Quebec-based union is trying to represent hundreds of Amazon.com Inc. workers at a warehouse in Laval, Que., a first of its kind in Canada if they succeed.

The Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) says it filed an application with Quebec’s Administrative Labour Tribunal on Friday to represent some 200 employees at the DXT4 warehouse.

The union, which represents 330,000 workers across a wide array of industries, announced the news in front of the Laval facility on Monday.

CSN president Caroline Senneville says workers are subject to unhealthy and dangerous working conditions, a hectic pace that has led to workplace injuries and a pay considerably lower than other warehouses in the province. 

“People are afraid. They’re living in precarity. A lot of workers come from abroad and don’t know their rights,” said Senneville.

The CSN says the tribunal will now have to ensure the union cards warehouse workers signed represent a majority of staff at the facility.

It also says Amazon has a history of employing tactics like artificially inflating employee lists and hiring new workers to delay or stall unionization.

A man stands outside.
‘ I’ve seen people get harassed, cry because managers are screaming at them, get followed to the toilets,’ says former Amazon employee Benoît Dumais. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

“We have to get the union recognized by the Ministry of Labour and then the next step is giving the workers of Amazon here a good working contract,” said Senneville, adding that the majority of workers at warehouses have signed union cards.

Former employee alleges poor conditions 

One year ago, Benoît Dumais used to work at the Laval warehouse. Now, he’s one of the people sporting the union’s colours, even if he left his job.

“I’ve seen people get injured. I’ve seen people get harassed, cry because managers are screaming at them, get followed to the toilets ’cause they can’t take toilet breaks,” he said.

Dumais says not all workers there are aware of their rights, and he wants to fight on behalf of his old co-workers to help them organize and stand up for themselves. 

A spokesperson for Amazon told CBC News that the decision to unionize is up to workers.

“Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union,” it said in a statement. 

In spite of the CSN’s claims about poor working conditions, Amazon said it “already offers what many unions are requesting: safe and inclusive workplaces, competitive pay, health benefits on day one and opportunities for career growth.”

In a subsequent statement to CBC on Tuesday, Amazon spokesperson Barbara Agrait said the company does not require employees to meet fixed productivity targets.

She said employees also have regularly scheduled breaks and are allowed to step away if they need to use the restroom, have water or talk to a manager.

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Earlier this month, Unifor filed applications to represent workers at two Amazon warehouses in New Westminster and Delta, B.C.

Shortly after, the union wound up temporarily withdrawing the applications and accusing the e-commerce giant of providing a “suspiciously high” employee count that stymied its efforts.

Currently, the only Amazon warehouse in North America to have successfully unionized is in New York City’s Staten Island borough.

Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet said it’s up to the tribunal to make sure the certification process is followed.

“The workers’ choice, whatever it may be, must be respected,” he said in a statement.

1 warehouse isn’t enough, sociologist says

Barry Eidlin, an associate professor of sociology at McGill University with a focus on labour policy, says getting union representation would represent a shift in the balance of power in the workplace.

“It has the potential of being the opening shot in an effort to organize the company. But on its own there’s still a long way to go and it’s just a first step,” he said.

The next step would be getting a contract, something that is no easy task. 

“That is a tough bill for when we’re dealing with Amazon because Amazon resists at every step of the way,” he said, adding that there will be no unionized Amazon in Canada without a broader push for unionization across the country. 

Amazon is “going to have to feel pressure from several warehouses and even there, given Amazon’s size and their anti-union animus, we can’t exclude the possibility that they would just, you know, pull out of Quebec entirely,” he said.

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