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Amazon places an order for another 3,000 Vancouver tech workers

The redevelopment of the old Canada Post building - Amazon's new Vancouver home - is expected to be completed by 2023.
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Amazon will maintain a 6,000-person workforce in the the old Canada Post building redevelopment in downtown Vancouver, expected to be complete in 2023. Photo submitted

As the old Canada Post building on Vancouver’s West Georgia Street continues to transform into a new tech centre for Amazon.com Inc., the e-commerce giant is boosting hiring even further.

The Seattle-based tech company already had plans to take up 416,000 square feet in the downtown redevelopment, with designs on adding 3,000 more workers to the city in the coming years.

But Amazon revealed Monday (September 28) it’s expanding hiring at both its West Coast and Toronto offices, to the tune of 3,500 workers.

The vast majority of those workers — 3,000 — will be based in Vancouver as the company is now committing to taking up an additional 680,000 square feet of the old Canada Post building, which will see two towers sprouting from the classic facade.

Amazon will lease 18 floors from the building’s North Tower and 17 floors from its South Tower with 6,000 workers total.

The 3,000-plus new jobs in Vancouver and Toronto encompass software development engineers, user experience designers, speech scientists for its Alexa device, cloud-computing solutions architects, and sales and marketing executives.

Amazon embarked on a search for an “HQ2” in 2017, issuing an opening invitation to cities across North America to make a pitch as to why they should host the company’s second home.

It eventually whittled 238 bids down to 20 – Toronto being the only Canadian city to make the shortlist — before deciding its HQ2 would be split between two locations in New York City and Virginia.

The company planned at the outset of the HQ2 campaign to invest US$5 billion in the local economy over 15-17 years while hiring as many as 50,000 employees (its Seattle presence already included 40,000 employees across 33 buildings occupying 8.1 million square feet).

But since the HQ2 bid, Amazon has taken an increasing liking to Vancouver, committing in November 2017 to hire an additional 1,000 workers in the city.

Canadian e-commerce giant Shopify Inc.backed away from its January 2020 plans to hire 1,000 West Coast workers for a new four-storey, 70,000-square-foot office in downtown Vancouver at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, it will be turning its attention to hiring employees who will work from home.

Amazon, however, told BIV in May it had no plans to back out of its expansion plans for the city.

But its presence in Vancouver hasn’t been without tumult.

A high-level Vancouver executive at Amazon Web Services (AWS) quit his job in May over how his former parent company had been treating workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I quite in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of COVID-19,” Tim Bray, previously an AWS vice-president and distinguished engineer, wrote in a blog post.

Bray was referencing dismissals that unfolded the previous month when warehouse workers reached out to the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ) organization for support raising awareness over what they considered to be unsafe working conditions during the pandemic.

One warehouse worker had already been dismissed in the wake of internal company protests.

Some AECJ members in turn promoted a petition and organized a video call to bring attention to the issue.

They were subsequently dismissed for what Amazon described as violating internal policies on commenting on the company publicly without authorization.

“VPs shouldn’t go publicly rogue, so I escalated through the proper channels and by the book,” Bray said in his post, adding he would not provide further details about those discussions other than that he believes he brought up his concerns to the appropriate people.

“That done, remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned.”

The former tech executive said the job provided $1 million between salary and share vestings, but he was left uneasy after warehouse workers repeatedly raised concerns about the safety of Amazon’s fulfillment centres.

But Bray had kinder words for AWS, the cloud-computing division of Amazon.

“It treats its workers humanely, strives for work/life balance, struggles to move the diversity needle (and mostly fails, but so does everyone else), and is by and large an ethical organization. I genuinely admire its leadership,” he said in his post.

“Of course, its workers have power. The average pay is very high, and anyone who’s unhappy can walk across the street and get another job paying the same or better.”

The West Georgia Street redevelopment is expected to be completed by 2023.

The company currently has more than 21,000 workers based in Canada, including those based at tech hubs as well as distribution centres.

torton@biv.com

@reporton

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