Job Security in the Newspaper Industry


“No layoffs for newspaper workers.”

No, this is not an embellished headline from a tabloid. This comes from the Canadian Labour Reporter: “Winnipeg Free Press workers ratify new agreements with no layoff clause.”

Why is this so shocking to the labour relations world? It’s because no layoff clauses are very rare in any collective agreement. No employer wants to be obligated to keep employees when they have no work available. Even more shocking is the fact that this no layoff clause is in the traditional newspaper industry, which has been in significant decline (with large layoffs) since the invention of the Internet.

Unifor, the union that negotiated the no layoff clause, is claiming it as a huge win for their members. (click here to read Unifor’s news release)

Is it a true win for the union and its members? In reality, it is only a two-year deal, so the employees do get job security but only for two years, what happens after that? Who knows? In addition, in this new collective agreement there was no wage increases for the employees but the union was able to stabilize the workers’ pension and that is a big win.

This Unifor deal may not be the most lucrative collective agreement ever. However, it is a very interesting event that may have an impact on other collective bargaining negotiations in other industries. Keep posted.

Discussion Questions

Research other collective agreements to see if they have a “no layoff” clause.  Are they in the public sector or the private sector?

In future negotiations, do you see Unifor being successful in adding a “no layoff” clause with other employers in other industries?  Why or why not? Defend your argument.

Unlawful Strikes

As Canadians, we have a reputation for being a polite, respectful, and peaceful society.

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.

Click here to read about the illegal strike action taking place at General Motors.

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.

Click here to read about the ruling issued by the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB).

Click here to read the decision.

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.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think Unifor made the decision to proceed with an unlawful strike?
  2. If you were representing the workers at General Motors, would you encourage unlawful strike action in this case? Explain your rationale.
  3. What impact does the decision from the OLRB have on continuing labour relations at General Motors?

The Capitalist versus the Proletarian: The Adversarial Relationship Continues

Any of us who has had some exposure to Labour Relations (LR) knows that the relationship is fundamentally adverse in nature and has been since the industrial revolution of the 1800s.

Labour and management seem to get along for periods of time, but in the end the balance of power shifts and one party takes the route of conflict to try to improve its position against the other side.

There has not been a better illustration of this adverse relationship than the one that played out on Super Bowl Sunday.  As the two football teams battled it out in a very slow and sleepy football game this past February, another battle was being waged between the capitalist systems and the proletarian. The former being represented by General Motors (GM), and the latter by Unifor, the union that represents a majority of Canadian Autoworkers.

GM, the largest employer in Oshawa, announced last November that after 100 years of production, it would be closing down its Oshawa plant at the end of the year.

It is obvious why the union is upset about the plant closing. A union’s reason to exist is to help workers with employment, obtain better wages, as well as fair working conditions for their members. When that is gone so is the union’s purpose. However, this adversarial relationship story goes much deeper.

In 2008, GM received a $10 billion bailout by the provincial and federal governments and according to the Globe and Mail, Canadian taxpayers have been shorted by GM to the tune of $3.5 billion dollars.

Click here to read the Globe and Mail article.

Unifor placed a TV advertisement during the Super Bowl calling out GM and trying to shame the company for their actions. The ad ends with the following comment:

“You may have forgotten our generosity, but we’ll never forget your greed.” – Unifor Advertisement February 2019

To view the advertisement click here.

As we all know, companies are very protective of their brand and do not want to be chastised in public. GM responded by sending a letter, which threatened to sue Unifor.

“While GM respects Unifor’s rights to protest, we cannot condone purposely misleading the Canadian public,” the letter said.

So, the conflict between workers and the capitalist continues, but who is right? Does a company have moral obligations or is it just business? Each one of us in HR will have to reflect on that question.

Discussion Questions

After watching the Unifor GM advertisement and reading GM’s complaints, discuss the validity of the Unifor ad under Canadian Law, and consider the following questions:

  • Is this advertisement legal? If yes, support your answer, if no support your answer.
  • Do you think Unifor’s ad will have any impact? Explain your position.
  • Why do you think Unifor chose to run a boycott campaign?
  • Do you think a union running a product boycott campaign has any effect?



The Impact of Unions

All HR professionals working in union and non-union sectors should be aware of what is going on in the working world around them – Being aware is always an asset!

Take a look at the unionization rates in Canada for the past 16 years.  The trend line is constantly dropping and the number of unionized jobs is dropping with it; with the exception of slight increases in 2010 and 2013.

Click here to read Labour Canada’s Statistics on Unionization.

An increase of 1.5 %  in 2013 may not be much, but if Unifor, Canada’s largest union has its way, the trend of decreasing unionization rates is going to change and begin increasing.

What is Unifor planning to do?  Unifor is committing 10% of its revenues or $10 million dollars to organization drives.  In marketing terms, $10 million for growing their business.

Click here to read an article on Unifor’s Organizational Marketing Drive. 

$10 million is a big number!  Are Canadian employers ready for that kind of union marketing push?  Only time will tell if Unifor can reverse the trend and increase union membership by significant levels in Canada.  Unifor already has the organization skills, the process, and the knowledge on how to organize workplaces and now that they have committed the economic resources to the vision as well.

As mentioned at the beginning of this blog, HR professionals need to be aware and alert of this possible change.

Discussion Questions

  1. What type of industries do you think Unifor will  try to organize?
  2. What types of  methods do you think they will enlist to engage new members?
  3. How do you think Canadian employers will respond to this type of union marketing?