EDMONTON—In the wake of a groundbreaking unionization at an Amazon facility south of the border, a second attempt is underway to form a union at the company’s Edmonton-area warehouse.

If successful, the Amazon workers at the company’s fulfillment center in Nisku, Alta., would become the first in Canada to vote on whether to unionize.

On Monday, Teamsters Local Union 362 filed an application with the Alberta Labor Relations Board to certify a union vote at the sprawling, one-million-square-foot warehouse located in an industrial area south of Edmonton. When the facility opened in 2020, Amazon said it would employ about 600 people.

Teamsters Local Union 362 currently represents about 7,000 workers across Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

Teamsters attempted to form a union at the Amazon facility last failed but failed because they were unable to get their proposed vote certified. The labor relations board concluded they had failed to reach the required threshold of signed union cards.

Stacy Tulp, the organizer with Local 362, said he’s confident this time is going to go differently, pointing to the momentum from the successful organizing effort in New York as well as more public pressure.

Amazon workers on Staten Island voted to unionize on April 1, marking the first successful organizing effort by company workers in the US

Tulp said some of the complaints the union has heard from workers include repetitive injuries that are not being addressed and Workers Compensation Board claims being denied without sufficient reason. One of the most frequent complaints is favoritism — there is a sense among workers, he said, that the company arbitrarily chooses who gets promotions and that there’s no clear path to higher wages, better hours or benefits.

“They want structure,” Tulp said. “So if I get hired, I want structure on how long I’m going to be a probationary employee, when I’m finished my probation … (and when) I start getting my benefits.”

In a statement, Paul Flaningan, a spokesperson for Amazon, said the company doesn’t believe a union is the best solution for its workers.

“Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union. They always have. As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Our focus remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work.”

Unions must show at least 40 per cent of workers have signed union cards in order to apply to the Alberta Labor Relations Board for certification. The board then conducts a hearing to determine whether the application is valid. If so, a secret ballot vote is ordered.

Tulp said he expects the decision to come out within 10 to 15 days, but that it could take as long as three weeks to a month if the company says it needs more time to present to the board.

Charles Smith, a labor expert at the University of Saskatchewan, pointed to several factors that he said might make the union’s organizing efforts more successful this time around.

He said the pandemic has helped frontline and essential workers realize they have leverage and that even large powerful companies can’t function without them.

“I think we’re in a unique position. Inflation is running high, workers are falling further and further behind in terms of cost of living. Usually, when that happens, we see more labor militancy.”

But he noted the union will also face significant challenges. Smith said Alberta has some of the “weakest labor laws in the country,” especially after the current United Conservative government reversed worker-friendly reforms introduced by the NDP.

Most significantly, the union is up against one of the largest companies in the world, which would have the ability to launch anti-union campaigns, he said.

Smith said he’ll be watching the organizing effort closely as it could have a ripple effect at other facilities in the country.

“If you can unionize in the most hostile conservative environment in the country, a breakthrough would be a real morale boost for the workers in Canada and a real material boost for workers in Alberta.”

With files from Sara Mojtehedzadeh and The Canadian Press


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