Winning the Battle


“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

This seems to be the perfect proverb when applied to the successful organizing drive by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) in its persistent efforts to represent part-time college support staff.

The efforts to unionize the workforce of approximately 20,000 part-time employees took over fourteen years. The first attempts by OPSEU began in 2005. The bargaining unit was certified by the Ontario Labour Relations Board in January 2018. A first collective agreement was achieved between OPSEU and the College Employer Council in February, 2019.

This chronology of events is significant for many reasons. First, it outlines the challenging processes that unions face when trying to form a bargaining unit that included thousands of workers. Second, the workforce was transient – meaning that there was high turnover of employees from contract to contract or term to term. Support staff in Ontario’s college sector did not have the benefit of job security given their part-time status. Further, these workers did not have the procedural rights, such as the ability to file grievances or the consistent application of wage increases, when comparing these rights to their permanent, full-time unionized colleagues.

An analysis of the impact of the successful organizing drive and the collective bargaining process is outlined in a recent article posted by Canadian HR Reporter.

Click here to read the article.

This article provides us with a solid overview of the processes involved through the various steps of an organizing campaign. It also articulates some of the elements of resistance taken by the employer for this particular union drive.

As noted through the article, the union and the employer were locked in the struggle over unionization for such a long time. Now that the battle for representation and the first collective agreement is over, it will be interesting to see whether or not they are able to progress through peaceful labour relations for the next fourteen years.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the significance of having union cards signed by employees in order to be represented by a union?
  2. From the article, identify three potential benefits that unionization brings to part-time college support staff.
  3. Who is the employer for college support staff in Ontario? Who does the employer represent?
  4. In your opinion, why would the employer resist unionization for this workforce?

Crossing The Line


Unions in Canada have reasonable and legitimate rights that are included in their protection of the members they represent. These members are, at the same time, employees of a business that also has reasonable and legitimate rights as an employer.

When these rights collide with each other potentially dangerous and harmful conflicts can appear.

A recent decision by Unifor to post an online video identifying replacement workers (who crossed a picket line in order to work for an employer during legitimate strike action) provides us with a strong example of this type of harmful conflict. In the video, Unifor identifies each of the replacement workers visually, and by name, and labels them ‘scabs’.

Click here to read about Unifor’s actions and to view the video embedded in the article.

The union is clear about its rights-based rationale for proceeding with this type of ‘naming and shaming’ approach. As noted in the article and in other media responses, however, the video has not been received well by the public or by other union members. The posting of this video raises concerns about the potential for bullying that each of the identified individuals now faces. To make matters worse, visible identifiers such as race and gender may make these people more easily identifiable in a small community. Each person may be subject to increased targeting and potential harassment as a result.

In cases like this, eventual resolutions may well deal with the workplace issues identified in the terms and conditions of employment of the workers represented by the union. It is doubtful, however, that such resolutions will provide a positive conclusion for those who have been outed or harmed along the way.


Discussion Questions:

  1. If you were a member of Unifor, what would your reaction be to the ‘naming and shaming’ video?
  2. Under what circumstances would you cross a picket line?
  3. Do you think the hiring of replacement workers during a strike should be banned in all provinces? Explain your rationale.


Reaping What Is Sown

Stuart Miles/Shutterstock

‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. This famous mathematical law is handed down to us from history by Isaac Newton, who developed it in the late 17th century. In the early 21st century, it seems this law continues to prevail, even when applied to the context of modern employee and labour relations strategies.

In January 2018, revisions to the Employment Standards Act of Ontario were implemented, resulting in numerous changes that impact the lives of workers in this province. In its messaging prior to the implementation of these changes, the provincial government stated that the revisions to the legislation were required in order to ensure that ‘workers in Ontario have the right to strong protections at work’.

In the following months, there continues to be on-going media coverage focused primarily on the increases to the minimum wage and subsequent reactions to this change. Most of the media coverage has not painted a positive picture of employer conduct in Ontario, especially as it relates to the food-service and restaurant industries.

A recent example of this type of employer conduct has resulted in the decision by employees of the Rainforest Café in Niagara Falls to unionize.

Click here to read a brief news report published by Labour Reporter.

Click here to read a more detailed article published by the St. Catharines Standard.

As we have learned from our industrial relations studies, there are a number of theories explaining why employees choose to join unions. We need to set those theories aside for a moment in order to consider the reality of the impact of poor employer conduct on employees, and the ensuing results.

When employers continue to engage in conduct that appears to contradict the law (such as dipping into employee earnings (tips) in order to subsidize mandatory minimum wages) it should come as no surprise that employees will react by finding a way to ensure the increased protections they were promised. Unionization does not happen in a vacuum. When promises are broken by an employer, employees will look beyond the boundaries of their existing workplace for support and legal strength.

Employees in Ontario have a reasonable expectation to receive their wages in accordance with the law. When this does not happen, the employer should expect to receive the union they deserve as a result.


Discussion Questions:

  1. If you were an employee of the Rainforest Café, what impact would the vote to unionize have on you?
  2. What steps could the employer have taken to avoid a vote for unionization?
  3. Identify the positive benefits that the vote to unionize may have on both the employees and the employer in this case.
  4. Do you agree or disagree with the vote taken by the workers of the Rainforest Café? Explain your rationale.

Rebuilding Relations?

A Canadian pacific locomotive at a road crossing near the town of red deer alberta in november 2016 after a recent snow fall. Railway crossings are a safety

One of the fundamental principles of labour relations is the focus on the relationship between labour and management. When this relationship is effective both parties are able to work through difficult issues in order to find constructive solutions that move the relationship and the organization forward. But when this relationship is ineffective both parties end up in polarized, oppositional positions that result in the stagnation of positive movement forward, possibly leading to organizational destruction.

Canadian Pacific (CP) Railways provides us with an excellent case study of the organizational turmoil caused by a difficult labour relations environment.

Click here to access a CBC report, which includes an extensive interview with the CEO of CP Railways.

As noted in this piece, the new CEO Keith Creel faces a significant challenge to repair the relationship with the union as a result of four years of layoffs, strikes and labour relations turmoil. On one hand, the CEO was able to achieve great success through organizational restructuring resulting in exceptional profits. On the other, the price of these profits came at the expense of serious damage to the labour relations environment and its workers.

Success for the future of this Canadian company seems to rest with the willingness of the CEO to acknowledge past labour relations mistakes and to put positive measures into place that are reflective of the need for change. The union, as noted in the article, has responded with cautious optimism depending on the continuing actions that will unfold as directed by this particular executive.

However, clearly if these measures continue to have a negative impact on this relationship, we will see this iconic Canadian railway juggernaut, once again, derailed.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the positional perspectives that the CEO is promoting in this piece?
  2. What are the positional perspectives that the union is defending in this piece?
  3. What message is the CEO sending by relaxing some of the policies noted in the article?
  4. Why is the CP Railway logo important?

Top down, Bottom up, New Union Trends!

Where Are Unions Going? How Should HR Respond?

The union movement, like any organization, is constantly changing for growth or survival. It seems that the current trend in unionization is downward. Unions are trying to reverse that trend.  Over the last decade membership in unions has declined for a variety of reasons; such as, a loss of manufacturing jobs, globalization, and privatization of traditional public sector jobs.

This following video discusses what unions are doing and how employers can respond.

Click Here to View the Video.

Mr. Sundeep Gokhale, a lawyer at Sherrard Kuzz discusses union organizing trends, including how unions are taking a more globalized approach to increasing their membership numbers. Union leaders are now putting pressure on employers to accept unionization, following the voluntary unionization of the workforce at Magna.

The following article highlights some of the new creative tactics unions are using to raise awareness and increase membership rates.

Click Here to Read the Article.

Some tactics are outlined below:

  • Improve membership by being proactive and creating a network of non-unionized youth
  • Instead of picketing hotel services, unions are replacing striking with street theater to negatively influence the public relations brand of the hotel
  • Spending money to aggressively organize the service sector and the white collar sector

UNIFOR, the largest private sector union, is planning to spend $10 million on organizing new members.  What will HR’s response be? Whether being unionized is good thing or a bad thing is an individual organizational perspective. Remember that what most employees want, is their fair share of the surplus value that they help produce. If that is not happening then unionization becomes a more appealing option to workers.  It seems that the combination of worker unrest and greater organizing tactics from large unions will result greater union membership growth in the coming years.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Your VP of HR is trying to be proactive to ensure a unionization drive does not happen in your organization. You have been asked to create a union prevention action plan, what will you present?
  2. What would promote private sector workers to unionize?
  3. What would promote service sector workers to unionize?