Employees fired or intimidated because of their union organizing efforts, injuries and hellish work pace, internal policies to circumvent Quebec labor laws. Engaged in a campaign to unionize Amazon’s dozen establishments in Greater Montreal, the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) described a grim picture of working conditions at Amazon, calling their employees “employee slaves”.
“The work rates are hellish, work accidents are regular, work accident disputes from Amazon are systematic, said David Bergeron-Cyr, CSN vice-president, at a press briefing this Friday. They do not respect the laws of Quebec. »
Bypass the CNESST
Largely made up of young people and immigrant workers, the workforce at Amazon must, for example, use the care services developed by the company internally called AmCare. Essentially, the injured employee is first cared for by an Amazon nurse. The terms of AmCare were denounced by the Center for Immigrant Workers (CTI), also present at the press conference.
“For a year and a half, we have been constantly notified to the CTI of cases related to health and safety violations of Amazon workers, at YUL2 (sorting center in Lachine) but also at other facilities in the Montreal area. , denounced Mostafa Henaway, community organizer. Supervisors or AmCare will tell workers to take some time off, go home and come back in two weeks. When the pain or injury has not gone away, it is too late to go to the Commission for Standards of Equity, Health and Safety at Work (CNESST). »
Those who still choose to resort to CNESST compensation are threatened with dismissal, says Mr. Henaway.
A former journalist in Egypt who applied for refugee status in Canada, Ibrahim Alsahary worked for a year at Amazon. He was fired last March. He described a hellish pace of work where workers are systematically kept in the dark about their rights.
After six months, I became a zombie worker. I couldn’t read, watch TV, communicate with my friends or my family, I didn’t have the time or the energy.
Workers who raised grievances about the working environment were either fired or no longer had access to internal promotions. Mr. Alsahary also claims to have seen the development of a new system where, randomly, some workers were not called back for several weeks or waves of layoffs followed periods of massive hiring.
Statistics on occupational injuries at Amazon are patchy, says Mostafa Henaway, insofar as employees are often unaware of the remedies to which they are entitled. However, he pointed out that, according to CNESST statistics, for 2020-2021, 79 injuries were reported among the approximately 800 employees of two Amazon sorting establishments, in the boroughs of Lachine in Montreal and Saint-Hubert in Longueuil. “It’s almost 10% of employees, and it’s probably underestimated. »
At the CSN, we do not reveal the state of progress of unionization in Quebec establishments of Amazon, explaining that employees must often act clandestinely to avoid reprisals. “But it’s going well,” drops Mr. Bergeron-Cyr. He also denounced Amazon’s anti-union tactics, as employees received text messages to discourage union certification, posters were posted in the workplace and many company representatives have thwarted union organizing efforts since last spring. The CSN has also sent several formal notices to Amazon on this subject, it was specified. The company, meanwhile, has done the same at least once. “There is no communication channel with Amazon,” the vice president noted.
This is not the first time that a group of Amazon employees, which has some 1.6 million worldwide, has tried to unionize. All attempts failed until a first unit in a warehouse south of Albany, the state capital of New York, managed to obtain a first accreditation in 2021. It did not cross the stage of the vote last October, when a majority of workers refused to join a union. The first and only successful attempt was on Staten Island, New York, where a majority of workers opted to unionize in April 2022.
Invited to react to this release of the CSN, Amazon sent to The Press an e-mail repeating almost verbatim his statement made last May. “Our employees have the choice whether or not to join a union,” writes Ryma Boussoufa, spokesperson for Amazon Canada. This has always been the case. As a company, we don’t believe that unions are the best answer for our employees. Our goal remains to work directly with our teams to continue to make Amazon a great place to work. »