Issues & Opportunities
Every workplace has its own problems on the shop floor but there are common issues faced by workers across the warehouse sector.
While warehouse workers face a long list of challenges, there is an almost endless list of opportunities to make positive change. Simply put, when working conditions are poor, the room for improvement is huge.
Joining Unifor is the first step to improve working conditions and turn precarious and lower-quality warehouse jobs into “good jobs.”
In addition, being in a union means having the support of a large and well-organized worker-led organization, with access to legal, human rights, and other resources.
Through union-negotiated collective agreements, warehouse workers are able to address key issues including:
Workload, Pace of Work and Productivity
The most common issue we hear from warehouse workers are concerns about workload, pace of work and productivity.
High workload and ‘speed-up’ of the pace of work, driven by unrealistic quotas, create an environment where workers feel compelled to work faster, not safer.
Workers deserve a seat at the table with their employer, through collective bargaining with the union, to negotiate workplace operations, including the pace of work, productivity goals and engineered standards.
Contracts between the company and the union help lessen the harms of productivity quotas by defining work output and strengthening employment regulations.
Wages and Overtime
Warehouse jobs are often low-paid, unstable, precarious and non-permanent, especially when they are non-union. Compulsory or mandated overtime is far too common and there are often concerns with how “overtime” work is defined. Employers increasingly set higher and higher numbers of hours worked in a day or even a week before overtime is paid. That’s not fair.
Unifor has successfully negotiated some of the highest wages in Canadian warehouses. Recent collective agreements have achieved a $22.00 per hour start rate with some warehouse union members set to earn a top rate of $29.00 to $40.43 per hour during their contract.
A union contract also clearly outlines when workers are entitled to overtime pay and when they will receive pay raises.
Workers need a fair process to determine which jobs are appropriate for workers, based on seniority, skills required, development and training, and other factors.
A collective agreement between the company and the union would clearly outline “job ownership”, where a worker’s role has a clear job classification, description of duties and pay rate.
Workplace Health & Safety
The vast majority of workplace health and safety issues stem from high workload and fast pace of work. Often, employers don’t dedicate enough time or resources to safety training, or give priority to Health and Safety Committees.
Unifor works to eliminate and control hazardous workplace conditions. That includes negotiating access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), workplace health and safety training, work standards, and implementation and adherence to proper safety procedures and protocols.
The union also provides educational material, conducts health and safety training courses and campaigns for better laws and legislation to improve workplace health and safety.
Irregular and last minute scheduling undermines work/life balance. Warehouse workers sometimes don’t know what their next week of work will look like until a day or two in advance. This kind of instability and unpredictability makes it difficult for warehouse workers to plan and live their lives outside of work.
Collective agreements create a fair scheduling system that includes rules on advance notification of schedules, schedule changes and break times.
Equity and Discrimination
Workers may experience workplace discrimination based on race, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or other fundamental parts of their identity.
While racism can be often down played by people who try to rationalize actions and comments. Many don’t understand the impacts racism has on Black, Indigenous and people of colour. Racism is racism. Racism in the workplace can be exhibited through discriminatory practices in hiring, job assignments, pay and benefits, scheduling, performance reviews and opportunities for advancement.
Without union protections, workers may also be subject to arbitrary decisions and favouritism by management that pits people against each other to the company’s benefit.
A union ensures that all workers are treated fairly with equity measures to address systemic discrimination and harassment.
Permanent, Stable and Full-time Work
Many warehouses see a high turnover rate and a transitory workforce for several reasons: Difficult working conditions driven by high workload and fast-paced work environments. Lower pay, inadequate benefits, and unpredictable scheduling and hours of work.
Unifor pushes employers to create more standard and full-time jobs with benefits. The company cannot fire a union member without just cause.
The warehouse sector has seen a huge wave of technological change in recent years with many workers facing the threat of automation.
Unifor has negotiated language that forces the company to provide notice of automation plans well in advance. This allows the union time to utilize its many resources, including Research and Legal departments, to challenge the employer before change is implemented.
Surveillance of Workers
Heightened surveillance is a real concern for warehouse workers. Employers are able to utilize a raft of new technologies to track employee’s movements and monitor performance.
Unifor has negotiated collective agreements that require companies to inform the union of the location of all surveillance cameras in the workplace and include conditions that restrict who can view the footage and how they use it, with companies needing union permission to utilize it in investigations.
The union has also successfully negotiated the removal of RFID scanners used to track the movement of workers throughout the warehouse, including washroom access.
Sub-contracting, Third-Party Companies, Closures and Successorship
Warehouses are vulnerable to closures in times of economic contraction or shifting geographies of supply and demand. . In tough economic times, employment standards regarding severance do not adequately protect non-union workers.
Additionally, the increasing use of subcontracting and third-party warehousing companies can create two-tiered workplaces and undermine employment standards.
Collective agreements can protect workers’ job security from outside contractors by outlining work that must be done by a union member.
During collective bargaining, Unifor also works to negotiate enhanced severance provisions that make the cost of plant closure prohibitive and ensures that members are taken care of in the event of shut down or job elimination due to automation.
Creating Good Warehouse Jobs and Building an Industry Standard
In order to create “good jobs” in the warehouse sector, workers will need to establish an industry standard with basic minimum thresholds for wages and working conditions, to prevent employers from engaging in their usual ‘divide and conquer’ or ‘race to the bottom’ strategies.
Unifor and our predecessor unions have a long history of formal “pattern bargaining,” especially in the auto industry, but unionized workers in a variety of sectors have also engaged in informal pattern bargaining.
Using this approach, Unifor members at different companies coordinate to establish an informal minimum bargaining standard in their industry, which is slowly improved from location to location, and from contract to contract.
This approach, especially in conjunction with bargaining, gives warehouse workers the best opportunity to confront a variety of challenges, including workload and pace of work issues, technological change and automation, the rising use of agency workers and third-party companies, the need for enhanced severance and successorship protections in the face of closures and contract flipping, and so on.
Coming Together as a Sector
Warehouse work often takes place out of the public eye, and warehouse workers sometimes feel invisible and isolated. More coordination across the warehouse sector will allow workers to build their power, share their victories, and create a winning strategy that works for their sector.