You are here

Amazon workers speak out about their union drive

Chantal Sundaram

July 10, 2024
The first Amazon warehouse in Canada became a union in Laval, Quebec, in spring 2024. Socialist Worker spoke with a worker at another Amazon worksite about its impact and potential to spread.
What are you learning from the first attempts at unionization at Amazon in Canada?
I‘m learning a lot about unions. When I joined Amazon as a worker I didn’t know anything about unions, so it’s been a huge learning curve. I hope we get a union soon.
Why do you think this is important for workers in general, especially in these kinds of jobs?
I think Amazon is kind of the Ford of our days. They set new trends in how work is organized, so it’s important to stop these trends that are bad for workers. Like mass surveillance, and the role of technologies.
Management and Human Resources are being replaced by technologies, and it’s hard to hold them accountable for injustices we face. To give a concrete example, often there are automatic messages we receive from HR, attendance points that are deducted, and at six points we can get fired. We get these messages and HR says it’s not us, there’s nothing we can do about it, it’s how the system is made. It’s hard to fight that.
We scan boxes: every time we move a box in the physical world, we also have to move it in the virtual world. So, the managers keep track of how fast we work.  They give us these automatic warnings, especially in the first warehouse in the chain of the Amazon system. If you don’t work fast enough, it’s about quotas.
There is an average of the day or the week, and you are compared to that average.  If you’re a “slower” worker, you get a warning that you’re not fast enough, but you don’t really know what the rate is: you just have to be as quick as possible so that you’re not at the bottom, or you get a warning. If you get a few warnings, you can get fired. But again, Amazon says it’s not us, it’s “automatic warnings”.
What about precarity?
It feels like it’s all year-round seasonal workers at Amazon, which adds to the precarity of workers. You’re never really certain whether you’re going to get permanence or not. It’s very common for Amazon workers to have two jobs.
In many other places, it’s the same trend: “seasonal” workers all year round, and quotas.
What about health and safety?
Amazon is collecting biometric and medical data and sending it to third parties, with no regulations. This is new and it’s important to push back against it before it becomes normalized, like normalizing injuries.
The way Amazon is organized, by design, there has to be a high turnover. 95% of the workforce is going to change within 5 years because Amazon’s internal data shows that after a year or two a workers’ productivity goes down. So for them it’s good to get rid of current workers and get new ones because your body is worn down by the physicality of the job.
Amazon has about a million workers in the world and sets trends everywhere. But there are also opportunities for national and international solidarity everywhere.
Were workers you know inspired by the unionization that happened first in the US and then Laval?
Internationally not so much, but I think Laval is really close to home, so workers are excited about that.
And Amazon helped us with the union campaign: they started these anti-union meetings where they opened a subject that wasn’t open before. We have a lot of workers who never had the experience of working in Canada, and Amazon kind of explained it to them! Many workers didn’t know what unions are at all, and were wondering “I’ve never heard anyone talk about a union, so why are they trying to convince us not to unionize? There must be something fishy, they think we’re stupid.” It angered a lot of workers, and some even asked Amazon to bring the union in to tell their side of the story.
Because of their anti-union activities Amazon got sued by the CSN and now they’re more careful about what they say.
How have you tried to explain to your co-workers about why unions are a good thing?
It depends on how much they know about unions or not. Some of my opening lines are: do you believe you should be paid more, and if they say yes then I say, what do you think we should do? When I explain what a union is I say it’s a tool to achieve two things: to negotiate a contract for better pay and benefits, but also it’s protection for when workers get injured, there’s harassment, or unjust dismissals. It helps to talk about specific issues a worker might have: injuries, seniority, schedules, and explain how a union can help.
Have you spoken with people from the successful union experience at Laval about what worked?
I remember someone saying it takes on average three times to talk to someone about a union to convince them, and don’t give up the first time. Sometimes it’s a new idea that needs to make its way, and you have to plant the seed and water it from time to time. Something is eventually going to make them angry and be just enough to make them want to sign a union card.
We had an Amazon Workers’ Committee with the Immigrant Workers’ Centre [in Montreal]. We made a survey to give to workers with volunteers: are you afraid of getting injured, what’s your biggest worry, how much do you think you should get paid? And we created a newsletter as an agitational tool, to publish articles and updates from different warehouses in different regions, for updates and to show that the union is continuing. Because sometimes the union rep would come and talk about the union and then wouldn’t come back for a while, so sometimes workers would think the union had failed, so we had to show that wasn’t true.
I think it’s very important to have a good organizing committee, with people who are really dedicated – at least two to start, and from then it can grow. Be persistent and don’t give up. 
Geo Tags: 

Featured Event



Visit our YouTube Channel for more videos: Our Youtube Channel
Visit our UStream Channel for live videos: Our Ustream Channel