The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union has withdrawn an application for the certification of about 100 workers at a Toronto-area T&T Supermarket warehouse, bringing to an end a hotly contested organizing drive at the Loblaw Cos.-owned chain.
According to UFCW national representative Kevin Shimmin, the decision to withdraw the application “was made in the best interests of the workers at the warehouse.”
“Since the application is withdrawn, the union can build up support among the workers and make another application at any time,” he told The Huffington Post. “The alternative would have likely been many months of hearings.”
In withdrawing its application, the union conceded that it did not have enough support to trigger the certification vote held last month. The Ontario Labour Relations Board sealed the results of the vote amid union allegations that a number of ineligible employees cast ballots in order to tip the outcome in favour of the company.
The labour board dismissed the application on Thursday.
In an email, T&T CEO Cindy Lee said the company was “extremely pleased” with the outcome.
“[W]e thank our employees for their patience and support over the last month,” she said. “Together, the T&T team has a lot to be proud of and we want to work with our employees to advance our mutual long-term interests.”
The labour board ruling does not impose any limitations on the ability of the T&T workers to pursue another certification bid. The ballots cast in the July 23 vote will be destroyed.
The landmark organizing drive sought to make the warehouse workers the the Asian foods chain’s first unionized employees in an effort to address scheduling issues and tie wages more closely to seniority.
T&T is owned by Loblaw, which purchased the grocer in 2009 for $225 million. UFCW represents many workers in Loblaw-owned stores across Canada but none in T&T's warehouses or 21 supermarkets. According to the UFCW, T&T warehouse workers start at minimum wage, which is $10.25 an hour in Ontario, about half of what the average full-time unionized Loblaws warehouse worker is paid.
The July certification vote followed a tense organizing drive, during which workers heard impassioned testimony from upper management about the dangers of unionization, according to Shimmin.
“They were quite aggressive in their message that they want to stay union-free. It was a very intimidating, emotional environment in the build-up,” he said.
“The union was frankly quite surprised. We expect those kind of practices from a company that we have no relationship with whatsoever, but we anticipated that, because T&T is owned by Loblaw ... the larger company would try and ensure that these unfair practices were not going to happen.”
Loblaw spokeswoman Julija Hunter at the time dismissed the assertion that Canada’s largest grocer has toughened its approach to labour relations.
Under Ontario labour law, employers are allowed to express their views about unions as long as they do not use coercion, intimidation, threats, promises or undue influence.
-- With earlier reporting
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.