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Amazon union drive heads north to Canada

Organized labor’s efforts to unionize workers at Amazon.com Inc. warehouses have moved north to Canada following a failed drive this year at the e-commerce retailer’s operations in Alabama. The Canadian arm of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of America’s largest labor unions, said Tuesday it requested that labor regulators in the province of Alberta certify a union for workers at an Amazon warehouse in the town of Nisku, just south of the capital, Edmonton, and 300 miles north of the Montana border. To be eligible for certification in Alberta, 40% of the unit’s employees must sign a petition in support of unionization.

Pending verification of the signatures, the Alberta Labour Relations Board will organize a secret-ballot vote among the warehouse’s roughly 800 employees on whether the union drive will succeed. A spokeswoman for the labor board said the agency received the Teamsters’ application, but declined to comment on next steps. A spokesman for Teamsters said a surge of Covid-19 cases in the province could complicate the timing of a certification vote.

“We are not anti-Amazon. We are simply trying to help Amazon workers,” said Francois Laporte, president of Teamsters Canada. “We are not bothered by the fact that Amazon is a successful company. We are bothered when we hear about workers not getting their fair share, or not being treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

An Amazon spokesman said the company doesn’t believe unions are the best way for employees to make gains. “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 spokesman said. On Monday, Amazon said it planned to hire 15,000 full-time and part-time employees across Canada, and increase wages for front-line employees to as high as 21.65 Canadian dollars per hour, or the equivalent of £17.

Minimum wages are set by Canada’s regional governments and range from C£11.75 to C£16 an hour. The company currently employs 25,000 people in Canada. The company plans to add 125,000 employees in the U.S. as it prepares for the holiday shopping.

No Amazon employee is represented by a union in the U.S. or Canada. Amazon earlier this year defeated a union drive at a warehouse in Alabama after 71% of employees who cast a vote rejected representation from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The election could be headed to a rerun after a federal labor official found Amazon violated labor practices during the vote, a charge Amazon has denied.

Those who were in favor of the union in Alabama said they wished to bargain with Amazon on matters such as breaks and the rate at which they worked. Many workers voted against the union because they didn’t believe it would have a substantial impact on their compensation or workplace experiences, or were worried about taking on the company. The Teamsters is one of America’s largest labor unions, representing more than one million employees across North America that include package delivery, warehouse and trucking workers.

The group in June said it would mobilize resources and staff toward aiding Amazon workers throughout the U.S. in organizing. In Canada, labor law is largely a provincial jurisdiction, with the exception of sectors–most notably airlines, railways and telecommunications–that the federal government regulates. Union certification tends to be more difficult in Alberta relative to other Canadian provinces, said Maurice Dransfeld, partner at Edmonton-based employment law firm McLennan Ross.

Unlike other Canadian jurisdictions, Mr. Dransfeld said, Alberta allows employers to mount a campaign against unionization ahead of the vote. This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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