By Gerard Di Trolio
On Thursday August 16, workers at the Tim Horton’s in the small town of Canora, Saskatchewan will vote for the second time on whether to certify Workers United Canada Council to represent them. The previous certification vote was held in June 2017.
The circumstances of the re-vote for certification called by the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board in a 2-1 decision made on July 20 could have a chilling effect on further unionization efforts in the province.
100 percent union
When the results were first announced in March, it was announced that the seven employees voted 100 per cent if favour of the union, however questions still remained because the franchise’s owner, Amenity Health Care had filed an unfair labour practice claim during the organizing drive and have mostly dragged their feet in bargaining for a first contract though some progress has been made.
Amenity can afford to play hardball. Formed by wealthy investors in Manitoba in 2013, it has been buying up primarily pharmacies in smaller communities across the Prairies but also has diverse business holdings as its ownership of the Tim Horton’s in Canora shows. In 2017, it was sold to TorQuest Partners, a private equity firm based in Toronto with over $2 billion in investments under management. Though the exact size of Amenity has not been disclosed, TorQuest tends to invest in companies worth between $40 to 250 million. The Tim Horton’s in Canora is no Mom-and-Pop operation.
Resistance to the union occurred from the start. Workers United organizing coordinator Rabia Syed who helped to lead the organizing effort, told Rankandfile.ca that the employer followed a divide and conquer strategy as soon as they realized their workers wanted a union. Those employees who took the initiative to form a union were targeted and one was even pressured to write to the Labour Relations Board in favour of the employer but later recanted. The employer also tried to shrink the bargaining united by claiming those designated shift supervisors were management, though the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board rejected this designation as they found shift supervisors to be primarily performing the tasks of any regular employee.
That strategy may pay off. Syed explained that since the initial vote, there has been nearly complete turnover of staff due to both terminations and those choosing to leave. Out of 13 current employees, only one took part in the previous certification vote. Of the two employees accused by the employer of unfair labour practices by allegedly trying to pressure voting and violating the secret ballot, one was terminated while the other resigned.
The Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board ruling raises a number of questions. Syed and Workers United were found to have been not responsible for any unfair labour practices. However, those employees who were spearheading the unionization efforts were found to have committed an unfair labour practice.
This brings up significant questions given that the recent pro-labour rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada have emphasized workers’ freedom of association and the unequal relationship between employer and employee. The unequal relationship factor should be taken into account when the media makes an issue of secret recordings that employees of taken of management.
And this ruling should also be seen in the context of the virulent anti-union environment that the Saskatchewan Party has cultivated during their time in government, creating the most anti-union provincial government in the country whose rulings have been overruled by the Supreme Court.
Should the union be defeated in the re-vote, it will be a chilling effect on further union efforts in Saskatchewan, especially in smaller towns.
While major cities across Canada still have a visible union presence, building workers’ power that can seriously challenge capital will require organized labour to be presence in smaller communities. Canora is a small town of 2200 people where there are not always many job choices.
The result in the re-vote will have a major impact in organizing food services jobs in Saskatchewan, especially in small towns. Unionizing workplaces like the Canora Tim Horton’s will be important to the revitalization of the labour movement, and that is why the outcome should be on the radar of the labour movement across the country.