Amazon warehouse workers in Alberta, Canada filed for a union election on Monday—marking a crucial step in what could soon be the first Amazon warehouse in North America to unionize.
A vote at YEG1, the Amazon warehouse in Alberta, where workers have described rampant favoritism and discrimination against ethnic minorities and immigrants, could be held as soon as in two weeks, once the Alberta Labour Relations Board approves the election.
During recent unionization attempts at Amazon, the online retail giant has waged intense campaigns to derail and fend off union drives. While many Amazon warehouse workers in Europe have unionized, the company has successfully resisted all unionization efforts in North America since its 1994 founding.
The union drive led by Teamsters Local 362 at the Amazon warehouse in Nisku, Alberta, arrives a few months after the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a union with 1.4 million members and more than 500 local unions in the United States and Canada, passed a resolution to lead a coordinated, international effort to unionize Amazon. The union claims it has devoted significant financial resources to this project, and has said that it would focus on taking a holistic approach to unionizing Amazon rather than organizing warehouse-by-warehouse.
"Our convention nearly unanimously approved a resolution to take a coordinated approach at Amazon," Randy Korgan, the director of the Teamster's Amazon Project, told Motherboard. "We remain fully committed to that approach.”
In recent months, Teamsters unions in communities across the United States have been pushing back against and protesting Amazon warehouse projects and tax breaks—and have claimed multiple victories, as local governments have denied Amazon projects and tax abatements.
Teamsters local unions typically maintain significant autonomy from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in terms of decision-making. In Canada, local unions have even greater autonomy and elect their own leaders.
“Amazon won’t change without a union," the national president of Teamsters Canada, François Laporte, said in a press statement about the union drive in Nisku. "Be it on job security, pace of work, discrimination, favoritism, or wages, the company has proven itself to be profoundly anti-worker. Amazon workers need to know they are not alone and they have the power, through the Teamsters, to change things for the better."
Amazon employees at the warehouse in Nisku, recently claimed victory when the company raised their hourly wages $17 to $21.65 Canadian dollars per hour. The Teamsters Canada says this remains significantly lower than unionized wages which can rise up to $24.50 and $31.93 per hour within five years.
“Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union,” Dave Bauer, Head of Communications, Amazon Canada Operations, told Motherboard. “They always have. As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes—quickly. That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle. The benefits of direct relationships between managers and employees can’t be overstated—these relationships allow every employee’s voice to be heard, not just the voices of a select few.”
Typically, it is much easier to organize a union under Canadian labor law than it is under U.S. labor labor because of Canadian rules against employer interference. The Alberta Labour Relations Board requires that at least 40 percent of workers sign a union authorization card in order to apply for a union election. Once workers are approved for an election, the Alberta Labour Relations Board holds a secret ballot election. The union must receive a majority of votes to win.
"We’re watching this with interest," Iain Gold, the director of campaigns and strategic research at the Teamsters International, told Motherboard. "Amazon workers coming together can take many different forms. Nothing is off the table and we’re committed to a comprehensive approach. Alberta’s labor laws are stronger than they are in the US. We’re interested to see how much Amazon’s conduct tilts with stronger labor laws."
Earlier this year, Amazon faced its first union election at an Amazon warehouse in the United States in Bessemer, Alabama. Amazon management hired anti-union lawyers and consultants, and warehouse workers voted against unionizing in a defeat for the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The Alabama election ignited a wave of organizing at Amazon warehouses from New York City to Iowa. Amazon is set to become the largest employer in the United States in the next year or two.