Labour dispute kept CNE customers away

The Canadian National Exhibition was marred by a labour dispute this year.

This year’s edition of the annual end-of-summer celebration saw the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) union members walk the picket line at the front gates of the CNE.

Strikes are always disruptive and potentially costly events. It was predicted that the CNE may have lost up to $1.5 million in tickets sales as many regular customers didn’t want to cross the picket line.

Now here is the very interesting part about the strike. It directly affected the CNE, but the striking workers are not CNE employees. The IATSE union members work for Exhibition Place, the location where the CNE is held.  The IATSE members are concerned that their jobs are being contracted out to private companies and their union members are going to lose their jobs. The CNE is not a party to the labour dispute, yet they were caught in the middle of it.

This particular strike makes the HR person reflect and think about how important it is to understand the labour laws where your company works.  Your organization may not be unionized, but union disputes may have an impact on your business.

Discussion questions:

In these articles it is suggested that the CNE hired outside workers to come into the CNE and set up the stages. Review your provincial Labour Relations Act and determine if it is legal for an employer whose workers are on strike to hire replacement workers.

  • Why is the issue of contracting out work such a contentious issue in most labour relation negotiations?
  • In this case, did the CNE have any legal right to prevent the IATSE union members from picketing the CNE?

Labour Disputes: Understanding Competing Pressures of Collective Bargaining

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Collective bargaining (CB) is the process of establishing or reviewing the conditions of employment between an employer and its unionized workforce.

On the face of it that seems to be a very simple concept. In fact, nothing is further from the truth. It is very difficult to understand and learn how to manage the collective bargaining process until you have actually experienced the process several times.

A good place to start when examining the CB process is with what happens when there is a conflict during negotiations and a new Collective Agreement (CA) between the parties cannot be reached. The resolution model for a contract dispute typically involves a union going on strike, or the employer locking out the union members. In both scenarios production stops and little or no unionized work gets done. This is exactly what happened in the GM Cami plant.

The last strike that occurred at the plant, located in Ingersoll, Ontario, was in 1992, and it lasted 5 weeks. It was what we in the labour-relations world would call a bread and butter strike. The union went on strike for better workplace relationships, wages, and benefits.

Click here for more details about the 1992 Cami GM Strike.

Let’s move forward 25 years to this current strike. Today’s Cami plant strike is not about wages, it is about saving jobs and improving job security. In 2015 the Cami Plant lost 400 jobs to Mexico.

The union is looking for GM to guarantee that the Cami Plant becomes the lead production facility of the Equinox, which would essentially mean a commitment to maintaining union jobs in Ontario. The union workers are committed to taking this stance as 99.8 percent of Cami plant workers voted to support the strike.

Click here to read more about the current Cami Strike.

This Cami plant strike is dealing with much bigger concerns than the typical bread and butter issues of employment conditions. It is really trying to address what is happening in today’s global economy, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and keeping manufacturing jobs in Canada. These are big issues that all HR professionals have to think about, whether they are working in a unionized or non-unionized industry.


Discussion Questions:

Discuss and critically support your position on the following statement. Does a union have a right to ask for an employer to provide job security?

Identify and discuss the concept of the triangle of pressure during collective bargaining negotiations.










Yes to Unionization

The process of unionization can be either complex and confusing, or simple and straightforward. It all depends on one’s point of view. A case in point is the recent announcement that paramedic workers employed by the Beausoleil First Nations voted to join the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

Click here to read the OPSEU announcement.

Click here to read the news report.

Both the announcement and the news report appear to provide the same message: OPSEU representatives met with paramedic workers. The workers were asked if they wanted to join OPSEU. The workers voted yes. The process was complete.

Is it truly that simple? No, not really.

Not identified clearly in these messages are the complexities involved with determining the jurisdictional, classification, and membership issues. On the matters of jurisdiction, the news report mentions that the employer (Beausoleil First Nations) filed an objection based on the Canada Labour Code, which would apply if the workers were deemed to be federal employees. This was not successful as the workers were certified as a union by the Ontario Labour Relations Board and thus they fall under provincial legislation.

The membership and classification issues will need to be clarified to determine which positions are now included in this particular unit and which positions are excluded, based on the provisions of Ontario’s Labour Relations Act. There is a lot of work ahead for both the employer and the union as they begin to identify and establish their respective roles in preparation for bargaining a first collective agreement.

In the meantime, there are two important messages that do seem clear and straightforward. First, the paramedic workers wanted the legal protection of a union to negotiate better wages. Second, there is no evidence that the employer has acted ‘badly’ since the unionization took place. With a focus on improved wages and maintaining positive relations between the parties, hopefully these messages will continue to steer the path to constructive labour-relations progress for everyone involved.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Identify the steps and processes that are required for workers to become certified in Ontario.
  2. Besides jurisdiction, what are the distinct differences between the Canada Labour Code and Ontario’s Labour Relations Act?
  3. In your opinion, why is there a presumption that an employer will react badly once employees become certified as members of a bargaining unit?
  4. Besides the opportunity to negotiate for better wages, what other protections could a union offer to paramedic workers in this case?

Renegotiate, Renew, Repeat

Carousel in running, shot by Tilt-Shift lens
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We live in a world that is full of cyclical patterns and connections. The world spins on its rotation around the sun. The seasons change and then they change again. The monthly calendar renews itself each year. Each day begins, ends, and then begins again with an opportunity to make the new day better than the day before.

It is within this construct of cyclical patterns that we observe the timing of bargaining the renewal of collective agreements. Unless the parties to a collective agreement are setting up an initial contract, the process of bargaining is based on a continuing cycle that re-negotiates the terms of that original agreement. Once the terms are agreed for the renewal, both parties know that they have a limited time to live with what was agreed to and that there is an opportunity to try to change items that are unsatisfactory, for either party, in the next round.

Within this type of a cyclical process, we must expect to see the patterns of negotiations repeating themselves and not be surprised by the steps that either party may take during the collective agreement renewal process.

A good example of this can be found in the negotiating patterns of the LCBO (the employer) and OPSEU (the union) in Ontario. The expiry date for the current collective agreement between these two parties is imminent. While they are in the process of negotiations, the union has set a strike deadline for the end of April 2017. LCBO workers are threatening to walk off the job if the terms of renewal are not agreed.

The very same process occurred in 2013, which was the last time these two parties met at the bargaining table.

Click here to read about the 2017 bargaining process between LCBO and OPSEU.

Click here to read about the 2013 bargaining process between LCBO and OPSEU.

It is interesting to read and compare the fact situations (and the perceptions) of each party between the last round of bargaining and this one. While some of the issues raised in the current round of bargaining may be a bit different, the end goal for both the union and the employer is the same. Both parties need to reach an agreement that they can live with until the bargaining cycle begins again.

Discussion Questions:

  1. After reading both articles, what similarities are in place on the employer (LCBO) side?
  2. What are the messages from the union about the employer in both articles? Are there any differences between 2013 and 2017?
  3. What issues are matters of concern in this latest round of bargaining?
  4. What leverage does each party have in order to reach a renewal to the collective agreement?