Workers at a warehouse that supplies H&M clothing stores in Canada have voted in favour of union certification in an effort to improve wages and working conditions.
Kevin Shimmin, national representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), told The Huffington Post that a majority of workers at the Brampton, Ont., warehouse voted on Wednesday to join UFCW Local 175, which also represents employees at the Swedish-based retailer’s clothing store in Mississauga.
Owned by Toronto-based fashion warehousing provider Remco, the Brampton facility is devoted exclusively to supplying H&M stores, and employs about 60 workers, many of whom are employed on a temporary basis.
Calling the result “a solid win,” Shimmin says that 39 of the 58 workers who cast a ballot at the Brampton warehouse voted in favour of joining the union, while 17 voted against it. There were two spoiled ballots.
“The success really shows how strong people can be in their determination,” Shimmin said. “My hat is off completely to the workers themselves. They were the ones at the end of the day who built this whole campaign.”
The secret ballot vote, which was conducted by the Ontario Labour Relations Board, follows a week of campaigning by both sides. The UFCW filed an application for certification on behalf of the workers on May 15 after more than 40 per cent of workers -- the minimum required to pursue unionization -- signed union cards.
The workers, who are paid between $10.50 and $12 an hour, were inspired to seek unionization in a bid to lift wages, secure overtime pay and receive recognition for seniority, Shimmin says.
Remco owner Randy Cohen did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But when reached by phone last week, Cohen confirmed that none of the company’s other locations across Canada are unionized.
Remco has more than 550,000 square feet of warehousing space in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, where it operates the other distribution warehouse that supplies H&M stores in Canada.
H&M spokesman Emily Scarlett told HuffPost that because it contracts out its warehousing needs in Canada to Remco, H&M is not directly involved with the organizing drive.
But she said that H&M was in touch with Remco following the application for certification to reiterate the company’s position on working with unions.
“We had a conversation with Remco just to say that H&M has a longstanding relationship with unions and we are open to working with unions just so that it was very clear that our position is of an open atmosphere of working with unions, and we have been doing so for a very long time,” she said.
H&M has an agreement with global union UNI, and maintains in its code of conduct for suppliers that it follows guidelines based on International Labour Organization conventions. Those conventions include the right to organize, though that is not expressly stated in the H&M document.
The result in Brampton follows two successful unionization bids at retail stores in Mississauga and Joliette, Que.
In those cases, collective bargaining negotiations are currently underway, a process that Shimmin anticipates will kick off soon in Brampton.
Labour Day: A Canadian Invention
Few Canadians realize it, but Labour Day is as Canadian as maple bacon. It all began in 1872, when the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike to demand a nine-hour workday. When <i>Globe and Mail</i> chief George Brown had the protest organizers arrested, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald passed a law legalizing labour unions. Thus, a Conservative prime minister became a hero to the working class, and Canada became among the first countries to limit the workday, doing so decades before the U.S. The typographers' marches became an annual event, eventually being adopted by the U.S., becoming the modern day Labour Day.
The Winnipeg General Strike
The end of World War I brought social instability and economic volatility to Canada. On May 15, 1919, numerous umbrella union groups went out on strike in Winnipeg, grinding the city to a halt. Protesters were attacked in the media with epithets such as "Bolshevik" and "Bohunk," but resistance from the media and government only strengthened the movement. In June, the mayor ordered the Mounties to ride into the protest, prompting violent clashes and the death of two protesters. After protest leaders were arrested, organizers called off the strike. But the federal mediator ended up ruling in favour of the protesters, establishing the Winnipeg General Strike as the most important strike in Canadian history, and a precursor to the country's modern labour movement.
The Regina Riot
During the Great Depression, the only way for a single male Canadian to get government assistance was to join "relief camps" -- make-work projects set up by the federal government out of concern idle young men were a threat to the nation. The relief camps, with their poor work conditions, became breeding grounds for communists and other radicals. The "On-To-Ottawa Trek" was organized as a protest that would move from Vancouver across the country to Ottawa, to bring workers' grievances to the prime minister. The trek halted in Regina when Prime Minister R.B. Bennett promised to talk to protest organizers. When talks broke down, the RCMP refused to allow the protesters to leave Regina and head for Ottawa, and on June 26, 1935, RCMP riot officers attacked a crowd of protesters. More than 100 people were arrested and two killed -- one protester and one officer.
In May, 1938, unemployed men led by communist organizers occupied a post office and art gallery in downtown Vancouver, protesting over poor work conditions at government-run Depression-era "relief camps." In June, the RCMP moved in to clear out the occupiers, using tear gas inside the post office. The protesters inside smashed windows for air and armed themselves with whatever was available. Forty-two people, including five officers, were injured. When word spread of the evacuation, sympathizers marched through the city's East End, smashing store windows. Further protests against "police terror" would be held in the weeks to come.
Giant Mine Bombing
In 1992, workers at Royal Oak Mines' Giant Mine in the Northwest Territories went on strike. On September 18, a bomb exploded in a mineshaft deep underground, killing nine replacement workers. Mine worker Roger Warren was convicted of nine counts of second-degree murder. The Giant Mine closed in 2004.
The Toronto G20
The Canadian Labour Congress, representing numerous labour groups, participated in protests in Toronto during the G20 summit in June, 2010. When a handful of "Black Block" anarchists rioted through the city core, it brought an overwhelming police response that resulted in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. More than 1,000 people were arrested, with most never charged with any crime. Numerous allegations of police brutality have been made, and the Toronto police are now the target of several multi-million dollar lawsuits. So far, two police officers have been charged with crimes relating to G20 policing, and charges against other police officers are also possible.
When Vancouver-based magazine Adbusters suggested the public "occupy Wall Street" to protest corporate malfeasance, New Yorkers took the suggestion seriously, and occupied Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. Canadians followed suit, sparking copycat occupations in all major Canadian cities in September, 2011. By December, most of the occupations had been cleared, all of them non-violently. Though the protests achieved no specific goals, they did change the political conversation in North America. What their long-term legacy will be remains to be seen.