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Amazon accused of using posters, text messages to interfere with Montreal union drive

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MONTREAL — A major labour union in Quebec is calling recent action by the management of an Amazon warehouse in Montreal “tactics of intimidation and harassment” that interfere with a recently launched unionization campaign.

The Confédérations des syndicats nationaux said its legal department sent the company two lawyer’s letters — on May 20 and June 2 — over alleged breaches of labour rights. Federation vice-president David Bergeron-Cyr says Amazon’s anti-union messaging is “omnipresent” at the warehouse.

“It’s intimidation,” Bergeron-Cyr said in a recent interview. “This American company needs to respect Quebec labour laws.”

Photos viewed by The Canadian Press of the Montreal warehouse’s employee break room show posters plastered on each of the transparent walls that divide the dining tables.

“We encourage you to speak for yourself,” the posters say. “We do not believe that we need a third party between us.”

The company has sent text messages — also viewed by The Canadian Press — to employees’ personal phones, telling them they have the right to decide whether to sign a union card or an online petition. “It is your fundamental right to sign or to say, ‘No, thank you,’ or ‘I am not interested,’” the text messages say.

Under Quebec’s Labour Code, an employer has free speech rights but is not allowed to interfere with a unionization campaign, nor is it allowed to issue threats or promises. It cannot use its authority to induce employees to adopt its views. And employees must have the option of receiving or not receiving the employer’s messages about unions.

Frédéric Paré, a professor of labour rights at Université du Québec à Montreal, says Amazon’s strategy of posting notices in the break room and sending text messages “could be problematic” if it becomes overwhelming.

“It’s a question of balance,” Paré said in a recent interview. Amazon’s approach, he added, reflects an American mentality that won’t fly in Quebec.

“Amazon comes here … but they have an old American way of doing things where the employer has more leverage,” Paré said. “Here … with unionization, employers don’t have a say.”

Bergeron-Cyr said workers reached out to his labour federation earlier in April and launched an organizing drive, in part, for higher wages, which he said hover around $17 or $18 an hour. Unionized workers in comparable factory jobs in the province make between $26 and $30 an hour, he said.

“The workload and pace of it all are insane,” Bergeron-Cyr said. “People are under pressure .… A lot of them are immigrants who don’t know their rights, and Amazon uses that to its own advantage.”

If more than half of the 250 to 300 employees at the warehouse sign a membership card, the Quebec labour relations commission can certify the union.

Several workers, whom The Canadian Press agreed not to identify because they fear repercussions at work, described what they said are Amazon’s clear attempts to prevent unionization. All spoke of managers’ efforts to separate groups of workers talking about the union and of oral threats to close the warehouse if they unionize.

One worker said his life has become miserable since he uttered the word “union” at work. “Every co-worker who talks to me, after a few seconds, they are interrogated by the manager. When they do that, people don’t want to talk to you anymore. I’m being isolated,” he said.

Another worker said, “Most people you talk to think we deserve more. But they don’t want to sign the union card because they’re afraid that the company will know that they did and will fire them.”

Amazon Canada spokeswoman Ryma Boussoufa said in a statement that the company doesn’t think “unions are the best answer for our employees.” But she added: “No person in our organization will ever force, intimidate, threaten, make promises or unduly influence our employees’ decision to join a union, or not join a union, and any allegations of this nature are simply unfounded.”

Several groups of workers from Amazon warehouses across the world, including in Montreal, have reported difficult working conditions that include 10-hour shifts and the need to package products quickly, which they have said leads to injuries. They have also reported that managers overwork employees in order to get bonuses and that the warehouses are equipped with intrusive surveillance systems.

When asked about allegedly poor working conditions, Boussoufa said Amazon strives for a culture of safety, and she listed the benefits offered by the company, such as dental care and tuition subsidies.

Barry Eidlin, an associate professor of sociology at McGill University and author of the 2018 book “Labour and the Class Idea in the United States and Canada,” said the workers’ allegations aren’t surprising, adding that Amazon’s alleged workplace abuses and its anti-union stance have been well-documented.

“This is just the company culture: viciously opposed to any attempt at workers to have independent control in the workplace,” Eidlin said in a recent interview.

The pandemic, Eidlin said, exacerbated the problems in warehouses because of the explosion of online orders — but it also engendered a widespread unionization movement. “It’s an after-effect where people realized that Amazon prioritizes its products and profit over employees.”

In April, employees at one Amazon warehouse in New York City pulled off the first successful U.S. organizing effort in the retail giant’s history. Workers at a second facility in the city, however, voted overwhelmingly against unionizing. Meanwhile, other unionization efforts are underway at Amazon sites in Alberta and Ontario.

“It’s going to be a tough fight,” Eidlin said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press

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'Every dollar counts': Ontario's gas and fuel tax cut goes into effect – CBC.ca

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Ontario drivers experienced some relief from record-setting prices at the pump on Friday as the province’s gas tax cut came into effect.

The Ontario government cut the gas tax by 5.7 cents per litre until the end of the year, though Premier Doug Ford said he would consider an extension if inflation remains high.

Drivers noticed the impact Friday at gas stations in the Toronto-area, where prices dropped around 11 cents overnight to $1.93 — only partly attributable to the tax cut.

“Every dollar counts,” said Matthew Johnston as he filled up a cargo van at a downtown Toronto gas station. “This will actually help a bit.”

Gas prices in Toronto are up nearly 40 per cent since the start of the year, reaching a record high $2.15 per litre in early June before ending the month around $2.00 per litre.

Cut also applies to diesel

Johnston, who runs an upstart catering business and works at a winery, says the soaring price of gas paired with inflation has forced him to cut back on spending.

“I haven’t been able to go out or do anything anymore. It’s honestly just all gone to gas, rent — you know, just the cost of living,” he said.

He usually puts $60 in the tank to make his near-daily commute to the Niagara area. On Friday, he opted to try a $40-fill-up. 

The tax cut is expected to cost the province $645 million while it’s in effect. Analysts note Ford may face a tough decision in December when the measure expires and with prices likely to rise again before Christmas.

The legislation passed this spring will also cut fuel tax, which covers diesel, by 5.3 cents per litre until Dec. 31.

Hermain Kazmi called the tax cut a move in the right direction as he pumped gas into his car. He said high gas prices recently pushed him to use more public transit, but he expected to return to his previous driving habits if prices came down.

Kazmi was “100 per cent” in support of the government extending the tax cut into 2023, even expressing the hope it could lead to more financial relief.

“I don’t think a 10 cent drop would make a huge impact. It’s a good change but I think it needs to come down lower depending on how much inflation is and how salaries have not matched how inflation has gone up,” he said.

Price tied to increased demand, invasion of Ukraine

The soaring price of gas, a key driver of inflation, is tied to an increased demand for oil as the economy reopens after the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation has also been exacerbated by a global supply crunch caused in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ali Avali stopped to fill up his SUV on the way to a park outside Toronto, with his dog, an Alaskan Malamute, perched in the backseat.

“The only reason I drive is because of this guy. I take him out to do a bit of running in the country,” he said.

Once the loan is paid off on the SUV, Alavi said he plans to switch to an electric vehicle. He said he opposed a gas tax cut, suggesting that if prices continued to go up, more people may also be inclined to make the switch. 

“When I see gas prices going up, it doesn’t really piss me off,” he said. 

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LILLEY: Trudeau government tries to deny responsibility for Canada's air travel delays – Toronto Sun

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Our airports are a disaster and somehow the Trudeau government and their supporters think they can just say, “but it’s bad in other places too!”

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Is that really a good enough answer for Canadians?

It shouldn’t be.

The truth of the matter is that our delays have been going on since the end of March. Airports like Charles de Gaulle in Paris are experiencing problems now due to a strike.

On Thursday, Air Canada was the most delayed airline in the world with 74% of flights not leaving or arriving on time, according to Flight Aware. WestJet was the third most delayed airline globally with 59% of flights delayed.

The discount brand for both carriers, Jazz and WestJet Encore, weren’t far behind them on the list.

Is this due to problems globally or here at home?

You know the answer, but let me give you some more statistics. Canada had three airports in the list of the 20 most delayed airports in the world for departing flights on Thursday – Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. We had five of the top 20 most delayed airports for arriving flights because Vancouver and Calgary made the list along with the other three.

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We don’t have the busiest airports in the world, just the most delayed, but somehow we’re expected to believe that government policies don’t have anything to do with this.

Not a single American airport is in the top 20 for having the most delays, but five Canadian airports are. Chinese airports like Shenzhen, Shanghai and Hangzhou dominate the list in large part because of that’s country’s COVID Zero policies.

“Our policies are so powerful that they’re impacting the entire world,” a senior Liberal messaged me after a recent column on how the Trudeau government’s policies are part of the problem.

They sent links to stories of airport delays in Amsterdam, England and elsewhere.

It’s all true that air travel is a problem elsewhere and staffing issues, including for airlines, is part of that problem, but so are government policies. And to deny that, or minimize it, is to ignore the problem.

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“On our end, we have done everything we can,” Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra said earlier this week.

He said the problems at airports are due to airlines scheduling, staffing issues, etc. Yet people are still needing to show up for their flights hours ahead of time to ensure they make it through security on time. Passengers are still being delayed and held back on planes once they land because the customs area is too busy and can’t hold any more people.

Those are issues the government is directly responsible for, not the airlines or airports.

The Trudeau government just extended a number of COVID travel measures until Sept. 30, including mandatory use of the ArriveCan app. According to customs officers, the app has increased the time it takes to process passengers by 400%.

Yet Alghabra wants you to think they have done all they can to alleviate the situation.

Other countries and other airports outside of Canada are experiencing problems but none as long or persistent as what we have been dealing with here in Canada. Instead of blaming passengers or airlines as Alghabra has done, he needs to work with all parties to find a solution.

That includes the government fixing the problematic areas they are responsible for at Canada’s airports.

blilley@postmedia.com

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95,000 GM vehicles unfinished in storage due to chip shortage – CBC News

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The global shortage of computer chips and other parts has forced General Motors to build 95,000 vehicles without certain components during the second quarter.

The Detroit automaker said in a regulatory filing Friday that most of the incomplete vehicles were built in June, and it expects most of them to be finished and sold to dealers before the end of the year.

The unsold vehicles amounted to 16 per cent of GM’s total sales from April through June. The company said Friday it sold more than 582,000 vehicles during the quarter, down more than 15 per cent from a year ago.

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson said only a small percentage of those vehicles, to be completed at a later date, were reserved for Canadian dealers.

The company reaffirmed its full-year net income guidance of $9.6 billion US to $11.2 billion with pretax earnings of $13 billion to $15 billion. For the first time, the company predicted it would make $2.3 billion to $2.6 billion before taxes in the second quarter. That fell short of analyst estimates of $3.97 billion, according to FactSet.

The chip shortage has vexed automakers around the globe since 2020, forcing many automakers to temporarily close factories and trim production. The shortage has limited the supply of new vehicles on dealer lots in the U.S. to around 1 million, when in normal years it’s about 4 million at any given time.

That has pushed prices to record levels and limited vehicle selection, but it’s also led to strong profits for most automakers.

In a prepared statement, GM said its North American production has been relatively stable since the third quarter of last year, but short-term parts disruptions are continuing.

“We are actively working with our suppliers to resolve issues as they arise to meet pent-up customer demand for our vehicles,” the statement said.

Most automakers have predicted minor improvement in the chip shortage during the first half of the year, with far better supplies from July through December.

GM shares fell slightly to $31.69 in Friday morning trading, after the filing was made public.

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