Amazon held meeting with delivery companies on how to prevent Toronto workers from unionizing

In this Oct. 10, 2018 file photo, Amazon Prime boxes are loaded on a cart for delivery in New York. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File

Amazon staff held a closed-door meeting with Toronto delivery companies on how to identify and prevent union-organizing attempts.

At the meeting, a presentation marked confidential was made to 15 owners and senior leaders of delivery companies that Amazon contracts. Only one firm, which was unionized at the time, did not get an invite. It has since gone bankrupt.   

The presentation was made public as part of an ongoing dispute between Amazon and the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW), Local 175, the latter of which is seeking a ruling from the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) that Amazon unfairly blocked its attempts to organize about 770 Toronto drivers.

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Talking Point

Amazon staff showed their contracted delivery companies in Toronto how to identify organizing behaviour and what to do to prevent it, in a slideshow presentation delivered during an October 2017 meeting. The company’s director of labour and employee relations, based in Seattle, called for the meeting shortly after DEC Fleet Services, a Toronto-based delivery company working for Amazon, gained union certification.

The dispute comes as Amazon is increasingly facing pressure from labour groups around the world. Earlier in July, Amazon workers in Europe and the U.S. went on strike protesting low wages and poor working conditions. Amazon has responded to the rise in labour activism with a US$15 minimum wage for its American workers and US$700 million to retrain a third of its American workforce. 

John Deery-Schmitt, director of labour and employee relations at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, called the half-day meeting in October 2017, according to documents presented to the OLRB, shortly after DEC Fleet Services, a Toronto-based delivery company working for Amazon, voted to unionize.

Amazon did not directly respond to questions about the meeting, when asked by The Logic.“We have reviewed the allegations and based on our thorough investigation we have found no truth to the claims,” said Amelia McLear, an Amazon PR manager, in an emailed statement. “We are fully cooperating with the Ontario Labour Relations Board and expect to disprove these accusations.”

A slide near the beginning of the presentation titled “Wake-up Call — Union Organizing in the US” outlines a union-organizing drive by a delivery company called Silver Star that worked for Amazon in Brownstown, Mich. The company successfully unionized in April 2017, represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, the presentation shows; Silver Star went out of business shortly thereafter. 

The slides go on to show which unions are most likely to target companies in the delivery and logistics business and how unions approach workers—for example, at truck stops and by making home calls—to gain more members.

The presentation notes that “high-performers” are the most likely employees to unionize. It also says employers’ “behaviour and statements will be highly scrutinized during this time” by organizing workers. 

Deery-Schmitt referenced union corruption in the presentation, the union’s lawyer claims. 

Internal notes prepared for a question-and-answer period with the delivery companies, which Amazon refers to as “delivery service partners” (DSPs), following the presentation showed how Amazon representatives could address frequently-asked questions on the topic of unionization. To the question “What is Amazon’s stance on unions?” the notes state, “We don’t think a unionized environment reflects our culture, our focus on customers, and our working relationship with our employees.” 

Another question asks, “Will Amazon terminate the relationship with a DSP whose drivers elect a union to represent them?” The response reads, “We aren’t going to automatically terminate services with the DSP whose drivers elect a union, but it necessitates that the DSP examine how it can be successful with such a change.” 

UFCW alleges that Amazon imposed a “chilling effect” on organizing by cutting workloads of pro-union companies and individuals. All Canadian Courier Corporation filed for union certification in November 2017. The union claims Amazon then cut its workload to the point where it did not have enough Amazon deliveries to continue working for the company. Drivers of Stedfasts filed for union certification in March 2018, but did not get enough votes to join the union. As a result of the union drives, UFCW alleges, dozens of drivers lost their jobs. 

In the hearings, Amazon said the job losses and reduced workloads were not related to the unionization attempt. 

Attendees at the October 2017 meeting were made to sign non-disclosure agreements and were instructed by Amazon not to discuss the meeting with anyone. 

Leading up to the meeting, email exchanges between Deery-Schmitt and senior employees at Amazon’s Toronto facilities detailed plans to meet with owners and leaders of Amazon’s contracted delivery companies in the city. 

“We have a union sniffing around our delivery service providers in Toronto. In fact, the union has already successfully organized one DSP earlier this month,” Deery-Schmitt wrote in an email to the general manager of the Amazon fulfillment centre in Brampton, just outside Toronto. 

Deery-Schmitt stated in another email to Amazon managers that the reason for calling the meeting was to “discreetly, without getting them nervous, assess their preparedness and capabilities and gain feedback on what key concerns and issues are either DSP-controllable or Amazon-caused that might provide fodder for a union campaign.” 

“We will provide information and raise their awareness of some key actions to take in the near future re: trade union activity at the site,” Deery-Schmitt wrote. 

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Watts said Deery-Schmitt’s presentation “sent the message to assembled [delivery companies] that he didn’t want a union at the [Toronto] facilities.” 

Nick Basedow, senior regional manager of Amazon’s Toronto logistics business at the time, disagreed that the presentation was anti-union. He testified that workers’ interest in unionizing suggests “there is something fundamentally wrong with an organization’s culture.” He said the presentation highlighted ways to improve employee satisfaction and declined to “speculate” on why Amazon was sharing information on identifying and managing union activity with its delivery companies. 

Amazon and UFCW spent the past two days in hearings that will resume on Wednesday. Additional dates are scheduled for October.