Unifor alleges Amazon ramped up hiring at BC warehouse ahead of union vote

Unifor has filed an unfair labour practice complaint against Amazon amid a vote by workers at a Delta, BC, warehouse over whether they want to join the union.

In the complaint, Unifor alleges Amazon ramped up hiring while the union was in the midst of a drive to get workers to sign union cards, increasing the workforce by about 30 per cent in a bid to dilute union support.

In BC, if more than 55 per cent of eligible workers at a facility sign cards, union certification is granted automatically, while if the cards represent at least 45 per cent, a vote may be called instead. This is known as card-check certification, and BC and Quebec are among the jurisdictions that have it.

Amazon says the hiring was part of its regular seasonal recruitment, according to the complaint, but Unifor disputes this, saying the hiring spree represented a “concerted effort” to prevent the union from successfully organizing the warehouse.

Unifor’s Western regional director Gavin McGarrigle said the scale of Amazon’s alleged anti-union efforts in this case is beyond anything he’s experienced with other employers.

“I think it’s the sheer scale of the brazen attempts to intimidate employees that sets this apart,” he said.

The union says Amazon claims there are more than 700 employees in the potential bargaining unit, up from 641 in April, and that the planned hires still to come will bring the total to 833.

Unifor says it previously assessed the employee count to be just under 600.

The union alleges that the Amazon warehouse does not normally conduct extensive seasonal hiring, or even for its annual sales event in the summer.

In response to these allegations, Amazon spokeswoman Barbara Agrait said in a statement, “Unifor is wrong, on all counts, and we look forward to presenting our evidence.”

The vote closes midday Friday, but the results are likely to be delayed until the challenges regarding voter composition and the unfair labour practice complaint are ironed out, said McGarrigle.

“We’re obviously going to be pushing to have our unfair labour practice complaint heard as soon as possible and get a decision so that we can move forward and hopefully get these employees into collective bargaining as soon as possible,” he said.

“This isn’t Amazon’s choice, this is the employees’ choice. And their choice should be protected, and it shouldn’t be interfered with.”

The union in its complaint is asking the labour board to certify the proposed bargaining unit regardless of the vote results.

In April, Unifor applied to certify the Delta warehouse and another one in New Westminster, but later withdrew the applications, accusing Amazon of providing a “suspiciously high” employee count, which the company denied.

The union then reapplied to certify the Delta warehouse.

After its second application, the BC Labour Relations Board issued an order for a confidential vote between May 28 and May 31.

Agrait said Amazon plans to appeal the board’s decision, claiming an official report from a labour relations board officer confirmed the number of signed union cards didn’t reach the threshold for a vote. She said the union provided no evidence to challenge this.

However, the labour board’s decision this week said the report Amazon refers to was not an official confirmation of whether the threshold for a vote was reached.

The union in its complaint also alleges that since last June, Amazon has increased anti-union efforts, including displaying anti-union messages on messaging devices controlled by the company; interrogating workers about whether they or their colleagues support unionization; bringing in “union-busting managers” from out of province; and relaxing certain unpopular workplace policies.

“The anti-union slogans are ubiquitous throughout an employee’s workday and they are subject to one-on-one and group captive audience meetings that are both meant to intimidate employees and isolate the workforce,” the union says in its complaint.

“Amazon is an experienced anti-union employer and these tactics are designed as specific strategies to mitigate against the potential for unionization.”

In response to the allegations about anti-union efforts, Agrait said Amazon employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union.

She said the company already offers “what many unions are requesting: competitive pay, health benefits on day one, and opportunities for career growth.”

Earlier in May, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Quebec unionized with the Confédération des syndicats nationaux. It’s the first time in Canada that employees have unionized at an Amazon warehouse, the union said in a press release May 13.

That union also claimed Amazon tried to block its drive using “scaremongering messages.”

At the time, Agrait said the company was challenging the labour board’s decision to certify the union. She said the company doesn’t think unions are the best option for its employees.