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Union certification bid in B.C.

Two steps forward, one step back for Unifor at Amazon fulfilment centres

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Unifor, Canada's largest private-sector union, has withdrawn its application to the British Columbia Labour Relations Board (BCLRB) to be certified as the union for two Amazon fulfilment centres in British Columbia. The union's decision came minutes before a scheduled BCLRB hearing on the certification bid on Tuesday morning.

In a press release, the union states that the withdrawal is due to a "suspiciously high number of reported employees" at the Amazon locations:

"Make no mistake: workers at Amazon in Metro Vancouver are closer than ever to successfully forming a union," said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor Western Regional Director. "The number of workers provided by Amazon is suspiciously high, but with this information we know precisely what our next steps are to help these workers form their union."

Under the B.C. Labour Relations Code, if 55% of workers at one or both of the Amazon facilities being organized were to sign a union card, the BCLRB would certify the union as the bargaining agent for that facility. An application with more than 45% of workers having signed a union card but less than the 55% threshold would result in an LRB supervised vote which requires 50% plus one for union certification. 

In this process, the employer is not required to reveal any information about the workers they employ, including even the number of employees. While Unifor says that hundreds of workers at the two fulfilment centres have signed union cards since their campaign began, they did not have information on the number of employees until the "suspicious" numbers given by Amazon emerged in the course of the application for certification at the BCLRB.

"When working people are up against giant, well-funded multinational employers, we need more tools to help level the playing field," said McGarrigle. "Transparency is not too much to ask. The B.C. government should close this loophole as soon as possible."

Image source: Unifor

It's not the first time that Amazon has been accused of using dirty tricks to prevent union certification. In the face of a powerful union drive by the GMB Union at its facility in Coventry, England, the corporation used the exact same tactic of inflating its number of employees to prevent certification.

The Amazon Labor Union in Staten Island, New York, represents workers at the only Amazon facility where workers have achieved certification. These workers are still waiting for a contract two years later as the corporation engages in legal stalling, worksite surveillance, social control and refusal to participate in negotiations in the hopes that the union will collapse. 

Back in B.C., Amazon appears ready to employ the same tactics against the Unifor bid. At the BCLRB meeting, Andrew Dixon, counsel for Amazon, complained of the "disruption this has caused in the workplace" and the "substantial interference with Amazon's business". 

Dixon declared the company's intention to bring a motion back to the board under Section 30 of the Labour Relations Code in which they would ask the board to designate a period of at least 90 days, in which a new application by Unifor would not be considered. Blake Scott, representing the union, responded that "Unifor reserves its rights to make any and all arguments on a future Section 30 application if one is brought by Amazon."

Meanwhile, Unifor intends to continue its organizing drive. “We’re not going anywhere," McGarrigle said. "Unifor is committed to the hundreds of workers at Amazon who have signed a confidential union card and will redouble our efforts in the coming weeks."

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