Most of the time, we are known for upholding the rule of law. We function, generally, within reasonably acceptable parameters which include compliance with civil legislation. This includes the need to follow the statutory regime that upholds and frames the rights provided under specific labour relations legislation. Even if there are public displays of labour-related problems or conflicts, these are typically narrow in focus and usually driven by legitimate and acceptable labour practices.
It is unusual, therefore, to read and hear about the recent unlawful actions taken by Unifor against General Motors in Canada. Last year, General Motors announced that it would be closing its Oshawa plant, which will result in a massive loss of jobs for its unionized workforce. In response to this devastating announcement, Unifor has implemented a series of strike-related actions which are prohibited because an existing collective agreement is in place.
When two parties (the employer and the union) negotiate and agree to the terms of a collective agreement, this includes language within the agreement that states there will be no strike or lockout for the duration of the contract. When there is a violation of the contract by one of the parties, the remedy is to file a grievance in order to restore the terms of the collective agreement. If the parties are unable to do this on their own, the alleged violation goes to the applicable labour relations board for third-party resolution.
In the case of Unifor and General Motors, it appears that the union purposefully entered into a series of actions which, from an outsider’s perspective, ought reasonably to be known as violating the collective agreement.
It is no surprise, then, to read that the Ontario Labour Relations Board issued a ruling that declared the activities by Unifor as illegal and required the union (Unifor) to cease and desist in the promotion of illegal strike action.
Why would Unifor proceed in the manner that it did? Unifor is a significant and sophisticated entity that represents thousands of workers across the country. The decision to enter into illegal strike action is not one that any union would enter into lightly or on a whim. The leadership at Unifor would know that the outcome of such action would result, as it did, in the decision of the OLRB to go against them.
One of the statements in the article refers to the union’s perception that the employer (General Motors) had violated the collective agreement in the first place by issuing the notice of plant closure. This gives the impression of tit-for-tat negotiating strategy that belies the seriousness of the actions taken on the part of the union.
Perhaps this case shows us that, even though we are law-abiding Canadians, sometimes we do need to take a stand in order to take action against decisions that affect the well-being of us all.
- Why do you think Unifor made the decision to proceed with an unlawful strike?
- If you were representing the workers at General Motors, would you encourage unlawful strike action in this case? Explain your rationale.
- What impact does the decision from the OLRB have on continuing labour relations at General Motors?