When workers at the Original Cakerie in London, Ontario, who manufacture frozen desserts, showed an interest in joining the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, they prepared for the usual challenges to forming a union. However, these workers were also supposed to benefit from recent legislative changes in Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, which requires employers to provide the union with a complete list of employees and their contact information when at least 20 percent of the workers – in this case nearly 400 – sign union cards. This would give UFCW organizers an opportunity to contact workers and discuss the advantages of a union and prepare them for the challenges their employer could present.
Employers above the law?
Original Cakerie has resisted complying with the new legislative changes. “They raised this bogus constitutional challenge that they knew they would lose, I’m sure, but it was definitely a delay tactic,” said Kevin Shimmin, UFCW organizer, in an interview with RankandFile.ca. The employer claimed that providing the union with employee lists would be a violation of workers’ privacy and, therefore, a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The union, in turn, argued that the employer doesn’t have standing to speak on behalf of its workers, and that not even a single worker had come forward complaining about their privacy being violated. The Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) ultimately ruled in the union’s favour and ordered the company, for the second time, to provide the list.
For the workers, confronted by favouritism in the workplace, lost hours, no recognition of seniority, stagnant wages, and health and safety issues, this is an important victory and one that is also a critical precedent for workers across the province. But, Shimmin notes that the employer has still found a way to avoid complying completely with the decision.
“We know that on the ground, employers still manipulate these things,” said Shimmin. “For example, every time you get to a vote they always gerrymander the list itself and add people or exclude people. Even after Bill 148 it didn’t make that much of a difference on the ground.”
Defending Bill 148
“Whether the Conservatives or the Liberals are in power it’s just been the same as far as organizing’s concerned,” Shimmin continues. “I think companies can flout the labour laws and there are no real repercussions for them.”
The union, however, is in the process of filing a contempt of board order.
Furthermore, the union is preparing for the possibility – some say likelihood – of this part of Bill 148 being rolled back by the Ford government. “I think anything that gave unions a little bit of a head start from nine months ago is going to be taken away for sure,” said Shimmin.
Nevertheless, Shimmin and other UFCW organizers continue to talk with workers at the cakerie and rally outside the workplace. “The card signing campaign continues,” said Shimmin, “because we have to keep our eyes on the prize, which is to get enough cards to apply for a vote.”