Court steps in to end picket line intimidation

Reports of picketers assaulting and harassing management and customers

The British Columbia Supreme Court has ruled a union’s hiring of professional picketers and its conduct on the picket lines was unlawful and must stop.

Employees of a Hertz Canada car rental outlet at Vancouver International Airport went on strike on Feb. 2, 2010, and union members began picketing both the rental location and its service centre in Richmond, B.C.

According to Hertz, picketers soon began blocking the entrances and exits of its two locations, preventing employees and customers from entering and leaving. Hertz began a legal action to stop this practice, but reached a written agreement with the union, the Canadian Office of Professional Employees Union, Local 378, that a particular union representative who had been causing trouble, would no longer picket.

However, Hertz claimed the behaviour of picketers worsened in April 2010 as the strike wore on. There were reports of customers being harassed and threats to employees. In particular, a paid picketer who was not a Hertz employee, Jeff Parker, was accused of shouting and using abusive language towards female employees on April 19 and 20. Another manager reported Parker making vulgar sexual threats towards him, and one female manager said he blocked her car and made obscene gestures at her. On one occasion, he slapped her vehicle with a sign and when she pushed him lightly while trying to take the sign away, Parker accused her of assault.

The union also published a newsletter on April 22 that depicted a picture of a Hertz manager being beheaded. The union claimed it stopped publishing the newsletter a few days later, but the manager said it was still around after that.

The court found there was a “serious risk of physical harm to Hertz employees” and customers from the picketers’ actions. It also found there was risk to Hertz’ business and reputation.

The court also felt the union hired professional picketers, of whom Parker was one, specifically to aggravate the situations on the picket lines. Their behaviour, as well as that of several other picketers, constituted intimidation, harassment and obstruction of Hertz staff and customers, which was contrary to the written agreement and what is permissible under labour legislation.

The court issued an injunction ordering the union to stop its harassing and threatening behaviour on the picket lines as well as preventing people from entering and leaving the Hertz locations.

“The union’s conduct has been shockingly inappropriate and unlawful,” said the court. “The conduct complained of in this case is, quite simply, antithetical to a civilized society.” See Hertz Canada Ltd. v. C.O.P.E., Local 378, 2010 CarswellBC 1186 (B.C. S.C.).

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