With a workforce of more than 62,000, working in thousands of locations across the country, Canada’s warehouse industry is one of the most invisible but vital sectors of our economy. Almost every single good we buy and use every day spent at least some time in at least one warehouse before it eventually wound up in the hands of the end consumer.
Yet relatively little attention is paid to the warehouse sector itself, and to the workers who keep Canada’s economic engine running. Unifor’s Warehouse Sector Profile will provide some basic information on the warehouse industry itself, its role in the economy, and the people who make it work. We will identify the challenges and key issues facing warehouse workers, and lay out some key opportunities for positive change.
It took decades of union organizing, political and electoral mobilization, and community activism to turn manufacturing jobs into better jobs, with health and safety protections, higher wages, good benefits and retirement security. But there was nothing inherent in manufacturing work itself that made those jobs more deserving of higher standards, other than the basic notion that all jobs should be good jobs.
The warehouse sector is a huge and growing industry, thanks to globalization, increasingly complex supply chains, the rise of online retail and e-commerce and evolving consumer demand. As we’ve seen, what we’re calling the “warehouse sector” is made up of a diverse array of employers, ranging in size from small, regional firms to huge, globally recognized and diversified mega-corporations, and they can be exclusive warehousing specialists or in-house components of companies whose primary business is in other sectors.
The warehousing workforce is also varied: in dense regional hubs, workers are more likely to be immigrants, people of colour and women, compared to the nation-wide demographic average for the sector. Turnover rates tend to be very high, especially in non-union warehouses, and we’ve seen claims that some workplaces experience a 100% annual turnover rate. In addition, warehouse jobs tend to be lower-paid with few or no benefits and significant health and safety challenges, and this is especially true for the non-union warehouse workforce.
Warehouse workers are a vulnerable and all-too-often invisible workforce. Despite this fact, their work is the foundation of a vital part of the global supply chain, and in many cases, their employers are among the richest companies in the world. They deserve a bigger share of the vast wealth they help generate, and warehouse jobs should be “good jobs” that are safe, stable, permanent and well compensated. To achieve this goal, warehouse workers should organize to join the union, work collectively to create an ever-improving industry standard, and coordinate together with community and labour allies to create meaningful improvements to employment and labour standards.
Thank you to the following Unifor members and staff who participated in the Warehouse Sector Dialogue:
- Eric Buisson (Local 510)
- Shayne Fields (Local 222)
- Valerie Saliba (Local 4050)
- Debbie Montgomery (Local 4268)
- Jim Connelly (Local 4050)
- Michel Belanger