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.

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?



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.


Picket-line Protocols & Problems


As we have learned from our labour relations studies, when workers represented by a union go on strike, they have a legitimate right to picket the workplace where the strike is taking place. Peaceful picketing is part of every Canadian’s right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 2). When a union in Canada goes on strike, there is a clear expectation that its workers will ‘walk the line’ in order to ensure that this right is upheld.

Picketing takes place, typically, at designated locations bordering or outside of the employer’s property. Workers may be scheduled in shifts to walk back-and-forth on the boundaries of the property and/or across the entrances. They may carry signs and delay entry, for a reasonable amount of time, to others coming on to the premises or to the employer’s property. They may communicate information about the strike to individuals entering the worksite. These are lawful activities.

At the same time, individuals (including members of the public at large) continue to have the right to enter into the employer’s premises, if they choose to do so, without fear of intimidation, coercion, obstruction, or violence.

Click here for a brief outline of lawful rights for both workers and the public, as provided by the Peel Regional Police force.

What happens when the implementation of the rights of workers and the public collide? Picket-line problems.

Click here for video/news commentary on picket-line altercations at York University.

When individuals perceive that their basic rights are being restricted, we often see a quick escalation of frustrations that can have drastic and unfortunate results for everyone involved. While situations can be difficult to understand, and challenging, especially when tempers flare due to perceived restrictions or inconveniences, we must ensure that the freedoms we all enjoy through our collective rights continue to be upheld — peacefully.


Discussion Questions:

  1. In your opinion, who has the ‘greater’ right on a picket-line? The workers/union or the public? Explain your rationale.
  2. As a labour-relations officer for an organization whose employees are on strike, what measures would you put into place to ensure that striking workers are safe on a picket line?
  3. From the perspective of the employer with a union on strike, prepare a script that explains picket-line protocols to members of the public.

When does no mean no?


Marijuana and a gavel together for many legal concepts on the drug.
Matt Benoit/Shutterstock

Most Canadians are aware of the potential for the complete legalization of the marijuana industry. Medical marijuana is already trading as a commodity in Canadian provinces. It is a significant growth industry with the potential for continuing profits and productivity. With the development of this particular industry comes the development of employment related opportunities and conflicts.

A recent case involving an application for certification by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union for employees of MedReleaf provides us with an example of the complexities involved in determining whether or not a workforce can unionize in the context of a particular industry. MedReleaf is a licensed medical marijuana producer located in Ontario.

Click here to read a summary of case facts.

As noted in this summary, the UFCW filed for an application to certify the workers of MedReleaf under both federal and provincial jurisdictions. MedReleaf, as the employer, responded to this application by stating that it is part of the agricultural service industry and, therefore, outside of the jurisdiction of both the Labour Relations Act and federal labour legislation. Despite this argument, the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) ordered a vote by the employees of MedReleaf to determine whether or not they (the employees) wanted to certify and have a union represent their interests.

The employees did not vote yes. They voted against having UFCW as their union and against certification. As a result, the UFCW filed for ‘remedial certification’ citing unfair labour practices. If the union was successful proving that unfair labour practices did indeed take place during the employee certification process, the employees of MedReleaf would automatically become unionized, even though they did not vote for union certification. According to the facts of this case, the second application was dismissed based on the OLRB determining it could not make a decision because the matters were outside its jurisdiction. It seems to be confirmed, as a result, that the employees of MedReleaf are subject to the Agricultural Employees Protection Act2002 (AEPA) and, as agricultural workers, would not be able to form or join a union.

This case raises very interesting and complex questions. Why was the employee vote not considered satisfactory from the perspective of the UFCW? The allegation of an unfair labour practice during a certification drive is very serious. If it is found to be true, the employees will be certified by the OLRB, even if the majority of the employees voted against joining a union.

On the other hand, why would the OLRB order a vote in the first place and then, much later, determine that neither the provincial Labour Relations Act (which governs the OLRB) nor the federal jurisdiction applies in this case? Without more detail and information from each of the parties involved in this dispute, it seems that these questions will remain unanswered.

What this situation does provide is an insight into the perseverance of both the employer and the union in determining the rightness of their particular positions. The issues may be related to workplace rights and representation. There is no doubt, however, that the issues are also linked to the profitability of this particular product.

After all, the stakes are high for everyone.

Discussion Questions:

  1. On what grounds do you think the Ontario Labour Board based its decision when considering the Agricultural Employees Protection Act,2002 (AEPA)?
  2. Why do you think the United Food and Commercial Workers union filed a federal and provincial application simultaneously?
  3. Why do you think the OLRB ordered a vote for MedReleaf employees in this case?
  4. If you were representing the union in this case, on what grounds would you file an appeal?