Efforts to organize Amazon workers in Canada intensify in Ontario as Teamsters target Hamilton

Workers arriving at Amazon’s Hamilton warehouse on Wednesday morning were greeted by a handful of people wearing bright yellow vests with brochures and signs saying “Amazon Needs a Union!”

Members of Teamsters Local 879 said they stepped up their efforts after hearing from some workers at the Mountain distribution center who expressed an interest in unionizing.

“We’ve had calls from Amazon workers about the conditions inside, how they’re being treated,” said Jim Killey, who handles union organizing. “When they call, we come.”

The action outside the Hamilton fulfillment center follows the distribution of similar flyers at other Amazon locations in Ontario, in Milton, Cambridge, Kitchener and London, according to Killey.

“There is a pan-Canadian organizing campaign with the Teamsters,” he said.

The robotics facility, which the company has called “the most technologically advanced fulfillment center” in Canada, opened less than a month ago, with Amazon announcing plans in April to create three more facilities. in Ontario in 2023.

The four centers will create a total of 4,500 “safe” jobs, the online retail giant said at the time, including at least 1,500 at the Hamilton site.

Amazon spokesman Dave Bauer previously told CBC the majority of local warehouse workers would be full-time, with a starting wage of $18.70 an hour.

Workers will also have medical, vision and dental coverage, along with other benefits like a group RRSP plan, stock awards and performance bonuses, Bauer said.

Teamsters Local 879 member Steve Robertson hands out informational pamphlets outside the Amazon warehouse in Hamilton on Wednesday. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Asked about the organizing effort in Hamilton, Amazon spokeswoman Ryma Boussoufa said the company doesn’t believe ‘unions are the best answer for our employees’, but the choice is up to the workers. .

“Our goal remains to work directly with our team to continue to make Amazon a great place to work,” Boussoufa wrote in an email.

Paul Gray describes Amazon as one of the “most notoriously anti-union companies in Canada”.

The assistant professor of labor studies at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., pointed to reports of stress and an “incredibly” high injury rate in warehouses due to Amazon quotas.

While the pay may be higher than other entry-level jobs, Gray said, it’s low compared to other warehouse jobs.

“Many of these workers say the pay may be relatively good, but that doesn’t justify the working conditions that put them at risk.”

Union representative says he heard workers’ concerns

Lack of breaks, reduced free time and being tied down for the time it takes to walk through the huge facility to use the restroom are among the concerns Killey said he heard from staff in Hamilton.

He declined to be more specific, citing the need to protect workers.

The brochures included salary comparisons and contact information for Teamsters Local 879. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Organizing efforts are underway at Amazon sites across Canada, including in Montreal and Alberta, where the Teamsters Union has filed a request for a second union at an Amazon site near Edmonton.

Killey said news of a recent union vote by Amazon workers at the Staten Island plant in New York “has generated a lot” of interest in Canada.

A second unionization vote failed earlier this month, a setback for organizers at the Staten Island site.

Gray, the labor studies professor, said one of the biggest challenges for people looking to unionize at Amazon sites is the “massive turnover” each factory tends to achieve. to see.

The New York organizing campaign provides lessons for Canadian efforts, including that the organizers were colleagues or people known to warehouse staff, he said.

Third parties, such as established unions, should see this as a sign to build relationships over time so that employees feel this is a “true collective voice of the workers themselves, and not from an outside group,” Gray said.

Campaign won’t end in a week, union says

The Hamilton Teamsters spent about an hour Wednesday handing out pamphlets sharing salary comparisons and contact information to people who drive into the parking lot and to workers who are dropped off by bus.

The union can help ensure “respect in the workplace” and lock in contract details through a collective agreement, Killey said.

“At the moment it’s an individual,” he said, pointing to the Amazon building and the people inside.

“With us we will protect you, we will make sure that we take care of you and, through collective bargaining, we will try everything to get what you deserve.”

Robertson distributes information leaflets to workers getting off the bus outside the Hamilton Amazon location. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Killey estimated that the small group of Teamsters on site distributed hundreds of pamphlets.

They were greeted with “lots of thumbs up” and questions about how to contact the Teamsters, he added, describing it as a “very positive response”.

The action was to spread the word, Killey said, explaining that the union plans to come back and distribute more information.

“It will be a campaign that will not end in a week,” he said. “We’re here until they say ‘no’ or until we get certified.”