Union breached labour law, panel told

Loblaw insisted the deal be negotiated in secret because of concerns competitors might learn about its strategic and real estate plans, and insisted the deal not be submitted to a general membership vote, he said…Harry Kopyto, said the union denied its members their democratic rights. "This is not the first time an employer has extracted concessions by threatening to close stores or facilities. It happens all the time," he said, noting that few closings actually happen. "What you do when you're competing with non-union stores is you go on an organizing drive. You don't go around making secret deals with employers,"…

The Toronto Star
October 24, 2003

Union breached labour law, panel told
Secretly agreed to wage concessions. Loblaws workers denied say on deal.
Dana Flavelle

The union representing 15,000 employees of Loblaw Cos. Ltd. breached the Ontario Labour Relations Act when it secretly agreed to wage concessions at proposed new superstores without putting the deal to a general membership vote, a labour board hearing was told yesterday.

A dissident member of the union, Ben Blasdell, who manages the bakery department in a Collingwood Loblaws store, asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board panel to force the United Food and Commercial Workers Union to hold a ratification vote on the deal.

But Ian Anderson, the lawyer representing the union, said the board would be setting a dangerous precedent if it upheld Blasdell's request.

And Robert Kitchen, the lawyer for Loblaw, said the employer did everything by the book.

The hearing comes days before Loblaw opens the first of its new-format superstores in Ajax. Based on its Real Canadian Superstore format in western and eastern Canada, the new Ontario stores combine food with an expanded selection of general merchandise.

Loblaw sought union concessions at the new stores in response to increased competition from non-union rivals, such as Wal-Mart, Kitchen said.

"What the employer saw was a significant change in the marketplace … dictated by the increasing presence of non-union competition and alternative formats, the leader and highest profile of which is Wal-Mart — though not exclusively Wal-Mart — with its noted reputation for its wonderful dealings with trade unions," Kitchen told the board yesterday.

Loblaw insisted the deal be negotiated in secret because of concerns competitors might learn about its strategic and real estate plans, and insisted the deal not be submitted to a general membership vote, he said.

Union leaders agreed to Loblaw's conditions because they felt they had no choice, Anderson told the board. The union believed it wouldn't have "successor rights," or the automatic right to represent employees in the new stores, if those stores opened under the Real Canadian Superstore banner, he said.

The union also believed Loblaw would open the stores with or without its consent, and the new stores would soon begin displacing the old ones, along with its members' jobs.

"To suggest this union should play some sort of game of chicken with the employer and risk the jobs of its members is irresponsible," Anderson said.

But Blasdell's legal representative, Harry Kopyto, said the union denied its members their democratic rights.

"This is not the first time an employer has extracted concessions by threatening to close stores or facilities. It happens all the time," he said, noting that few closings actually happen.

"What you do when you're competing with non-union stores is you go on an organizing drive. You don't go around making secret deals with employers," Kopyto said.

But Kevin Corporon, president of UFCW Local 1000A, which represents Loblaws workers, said he believes the union got the best deal possible for its members.

"If this deal is overturned by the board, there would be a revolt because a lot of them are getting a really good deal," he said outside the hearing.

Under the deal, employees at conventional stores continue to receive the old rates of pay and benefits, including the Christmas bonus and Sunday premiums. If their jobs are displaced by a new superstore, they have the option of transferring to another conventional store, taking early retirement or severance pay, or accepting a lump-sum payment to transfer. Pay rates at the new stores range from $10 an hour to slightly more than $20 an hour. At conventional stores, top wages range from $13.50 an hour to more than $22 an hour.

Joe Manchisi, a 30-year Loblaws employee, said that was not good enough.

Manchisi says he would be eligible for a $75,000 lump sum if he lost his job due to a superstore opening, but it wouldn't make up for the wage cut he would have to take.

"All we're asking for is our vote,'' Manchisi said outside the hearing. ‘`If the members vote for the deal, we’ll live with it."


Brought to you by WikidFranchise.org

Risks: Unionization, Veil of secrecy, Canada, 20031024 Union breached

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License