At the same time, we must work to improve warehouse-specific regulations, as well as employment and labour standards. Though these kinds of improvements often require resource-intensive campaigns and political organizing, we must strengthen employment regulations and legislation to improve workplace health and safety, mitigate the harms of productivity quotas, create more standard and full-time jobs, and create more accountability and real penalties for bad employers.
Of course, for most unions in Canada, the number one ask for provincial governments across the country is the establishment of a more fair process for workers to join a union, if they choose to. Union certification rules vary from province to province, but in most jurisdictions, this means the establishment of so-called “card check” certification.*
Relatedly, we heard about the need for better rules around the use of temporary or agency workers. Perhaps surprisingly, members of our Dialogue group recognized the need for temporary workers in very select circumstances, but there was broad consensus that there needs to be better guidelines for the extent and duration of their use. In addition, there was agreement that temporary workers should be covered by whatever collective agreement is in place.
But beyond making it easier and fairer for warehouse workers to join a union, a number of other labour law reforms would help improve working conditions for those in the sector. We heard about the need for better overtime rules, setting the threshold for overtime work as anything over eight hours a day and 40 hours a week. Increasing the capacity for workplace inspection and enforcement by Ministry of Labour officials would also put more onus on employers to maintain a safe and healthy workplace, as long as officials are able to issue significant and meaningful penalties and fines.
Another major challenge faced by warehouse workers is the related threats of closures and contract flipping. In the case of closures, all warehouse workers, and especially non-union ones, would benefit from stronger severance requirements and better transition planning. Regarding contract flipping, we have already discussed how some companies use third-party contractors to provide warehousing services, and in these cases, the cycle of contract re-tendering can undermine working conditions and union status.
As noted in Ontario’s Changing Workplaces Review Final Report, “The effect of constant re-tendering is not only to keep compensation low but also to eliminate improvements achieved through collective bargaining.”** The Changing Workplaces Review recommended stronger successorship protections for sectors with a relatively lower-skilled and vulnerable workforce, and as we’ve seen above, the warehouse sector, with its high turnover rate and demographically marginalized workforce, should be included in that list.
* For a great 2018 summary of union certification rules across the country, see David Doorey’s “A Cross Country Update on the Card-Check versus Mandatory Ballots Debate in Canada” at his Law of Work website. (https://lawofwork.ca/a-cross-country-update-on-the-card-check-versus-mandatory-ballots-debate-in-canada/)
** Changing Workplaces Review Final Report. Chapter 13. ISBN 978-1-4868-0097-1 (PDF) (https://www.ontario.ca/document/changing-workplaces-review-final-report/chapter-13-other).