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T&T Unionization Drive Ends With Admission Labour Organizers Lacked Needed Support

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The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union has withdrawn an application for the certification of about 100 workers at a Toronto-area T&T Supermarket warehouse, bringing to an end a hotly contested organizing drive at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“Since the application is withdrawn, the union can build up support among the workers and make another application at any time,” he told The Huffington Post.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.

Loblaw Companies respects the right and decisions of employees to decide whether or not they want a union to represent them,” she said.

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

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