Postal workers' union raises concerns about safety of Amazon workers

The president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of cabinet to express concern about the decision to use Amazon Canada to deliver vital medical supplies across the country.

NDP and Green Party back union's demand for workplace standards for Amazon employees

A worker in a face mask walks by trucks parked at an Amazon facility in New York in March. Amazon Canada has signed a contract with the federal government to distribute critical medical equipment. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of cabinet to express concern about the decision to use Amazon Canada to deliver vital medical supplies across the country.

Jan Simpson, the CUPW president, said she is troubled by the decision to task "poorly paid" workers with delivering key items of medical equipment such as respirator masks, gowns, surgical gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Amazon workers "may have legal rights or employer-provided benefits to stay at home sick or refuse unsafe work," Simpson wrote. "But without a strong trade union behind them, they may not feel comfortable in exercising these rights or may not have the ability to be well-informed of their rights."

Simpson is asking the federal government to give representatives of the Warehouse Workers Centre, an Ontario-based group which offers support and advocacy to Canadian workers, "unfettered access" to Amazon facilities in order to inform workers of their rights.

Simpson has asked that the federal government take other steps, including:

  • Ensuring proper physical distancing is taking place in Amazon facilities
  • Ensuring all workers are given proper personal protective equipment
  • Ensuring deliveries are not carried out by independent contractors
  • Ensuring privacy rights are maintained, especially when it comes to the confidential medical information of patients

CUPW said the government's decision to use Amazon Canada as its delivery service will put further strain on workers who may feel pressured to continue working when they're sick.

"I want Amazon workers in the fulfilment centres to know that CUPW will be fighting for all workers in this arrangement's supply chain," said Simpson in a media statement.

"Now that the federal government has hired your employer, they must not wash their hands of violations of your rights, and conditions that endanger you."

On Friday, Trudeau announced that his government had inked a deal with Amazon Canada to manage the distribution of PPE and other medical supplies purchased by the government.

NDP, Greens back CUPW

As part of the deal, Amazon is partnering with Canada Post and Purolator to deliver supplies to provincial health authorities, hospitals and other government agencies across the country. The terms of the deal require Amazon to carry out its work at cost.

The deal was criticized also by the NDP and the Greens, who raised concerns about the treatment of Amazon's employees.

"Just last month, an Amazon employee in New York was fired for organizing a protest over the lack of protective equipment for workers during the COVID-19 crisis," said Green MP Paul Manly. "How can we be sure that Canadian workers will be properly protected during this contract?"

The Greens also warned that the federal government could end up rewarding a company they say offers "stressful, precarious jobs by ignoring workers' demands for health and safety."

"The health and safety of Canadian workers must be protected at all times, but especially during this global public health crisis," said Green Party interim leader Jo-Ann Roberts.

"We fully support the demands outlined by CUPW and expect the government to put measures in place to ensure the safety of these essential workers."

The NDP's Matthew Green, MP for Hamilton Centre, cited recent press reports documenting Amazon employees' claims that their working environment is unsafe.

"We have an incredibly hard working team at Canada Post that handles national logistics every day. Privatization can't be the answer," he said. "At minimum, the federal government should make absolutely certain that workers are safe and are paid a living wage."

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