Opinion

Letter from the editor: Behind the scenes of our years-long Amazon investigation

“Democracy dies in darkness.” 

“All the news that’s fit to print.”

“Without fear or favour.”

An astute news consumer will recognize these as the slogans of three great newspapers: The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Financial Times

When I was working on the concept for The Logic, I, too, wanted a slogan, one that would reflect this publication’s vision and journalistic ideals. 

I settled on a quote by the American journalist Walter Lippmann: “Against the chaos of a new freedom.” It’s a sentence taken from his 1914 treatise, Drift and Mastery. Here’s a longer excerpt:

“The battle for us, in short, does not lie against crusted prejudice, but against the chaos of a new freedom. This chaos is our real problem. So if the younger critics are to meet the issues of their generation they must give their attention, not so much to the evils of authority, as to the weaknesses of democracy.”

I interpreted Lippmann’s words as a call to ensure that amid all the exciting innovations and opportunities of the digital age, we need journalism to hold citizens, corporations and governments to account as they navigate the chaos of the moment. (I wrote about this in my very first column.)

We eventually scrapped the idea of a slogan on the premise that at that early stage The Logic’s work needed to speak for itself, and that we would leave it to you, our readers, to help define us. 

But I’ve thought about that Lippmann quote a lot in the days since we published Catherine McIntyre’s stellar investigative report on Amazon’s delivery-driver network. So many of us enjoyed the freedom of last-mile delivery during pandemic lockdowns, and yet, as Catherine’s thorough reporting highlights, those freedoms came at a cost to many.

Catherine began work on this story three and a half years ago in December 2018, when she first reported on a group of Toronto delivery drivers alleging Amazon was blocking their attempts to unionize. The following month she obtained documents detailing Amazon’s alleged efforts. 

Amazon has always denied all of the allegations, but Catherine kept chasing the story as the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which wanted to represent the drivers, fought Amazon at the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB). 

In late 2020, The Logic requested access to documents Amazon and the union had filed with the OLRB as part of the suit. When Amazon objected, claiming commercial sensitivity, we launched a legal challenge. Nine months after The Logic first requested access, the OLRB ordered Amazon to produce most of the documents we fought to make public.

While Amazon insists its drivers operate independently from the company, those documents challenge this claim. As Catherine wrote this week, they contain evidence of the guidelines the company imposes on the drivers and how meticulously it tracks them, down to how often and how long they rest. They also include dozens of pages of text messages from Amazon personnel discussing drivers’ conduct and suspected unionization efforts.

Taken together, the documents, as well as interviews Catherine conducted with seven delivery drivers, offer a candid look at the labour playbook of one of the world’s largest companies—how it has carved out a category of workers who are not its employees, but are nevertheless under its control. That workforce now underpins Amazon’s sprawling logistics business—a division that’s catapulted the company’s profits to new heights during the pandemic. 

When you embark on this kind of in-depth reporting, you know it will take time and money. Without paying subscribers, The Logic wouldn’t be able to do what we do.

Our fight to make those documents public—including consultations with our lawyers after the labour board’s ruling, when Amazon took its time to actually release the documents—resulted in a $34,479 legal bill. 

Price in the time Catherine spent reporting this over more than three years, as well as fact-checking and copy editing, along with editing from the brilliant freelance journalist Nicholas Hune-Brown and outstanding illustrations by Zachary Monteiro, and the total cost of producing this story was roughly $75,000—and that’s a conservative estimate.  

“For my part alone, getting this story meant spending weeks of my time in hearings over that three-year period,” Catherine told me on Friday. “It meant working for days with lawyers on our case against Amazon’s sealing order. Once we finally got the records, it was many more weeks deciphering thousands of pages of evidence, and speaking with labour experts and drivers to piece together Amazon’s playbook for keeping unions out of a workforce that powers its massive delivery business.”

The Logic is lucky to be in a position to be able to do this kind of journalism. More from Catherine: “Had we not had the resources, we would have given up—we wouldn’t have gotten this story.” 

It’s not simply that reporting costs money—it also requires a leap of faith. You don’t know if your challenge will succeed, and even if it does, you can’t know for certain whether there will be a story in the documents you’re fighting for. Pursuing this kind of litigation comes with risks for the reporter and for the company, especially for a startup like The Logic: you’re managing precious time and cash burn, and you have to bet you’ll still be in business when the story is ready to publish.

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This is not the only legal challenge The Logic has filed since its launch nearly four years ago. We’ve won some cases and lost others. But we undertook each of them with no agenda save the seeking of truth and transparency.

Journalism is an expensive business, and real reporting requires a readership committed to supporting that work. Our compact with our readers is clear: we’ll provide you with independent, quality journalism that helps advance the hard conversations we need to have as a country. And hopefully, we’ll help find order in the chaos of the new freedom.

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