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