Employer pays high price for bullying

Labour board decision defines bad faith bargaining

Last month, the Manitoba Labour Board determined that Buhler Versatile Inc. bargained in bad faith in contract negotiations with the union representing its workers. It also ordered Buhler to pay $6 million in lost wages to its employees – the largest compensation award in its history.

The board’s written reasons, released Aug. 1, explain why it found bad faith on Buhler’s part.

The reason is simple: Buhler was a bully.

Buhler’s actions amounted to more than just tough bargaining during union contract negotiations at its Fort Garry tractor plant, according to the board. “Buhler’s tactics throughout can only be described as an attempt to bully the CAW-Canada into submission, by threats of selling the operation or padlocking the doors.”

Buhler took over the plant in July 2000. Workers walked off the job at the beginning of November when the company moved to eliminate seniority rights and appeared unwilling to negotiate a new contract. Things went downhill after that.

Bargaining in bad faith violates labour laws across the country. The board listed the following actions on Buhler’s part as constituting bad faith bargaining:

•constant threats of sale and closure;

•lack of supporting material to justify Buhler’s demands;

•switching positions in the middle of bargaining;

•continued deterioration of Buhler’s initial offer;

•Buhler’s failure to disclose vital decisions; and,

•Buhler’s “total lack of attempt to seek some common ground.”

Buhler says that it intends to appeal the ruling.

In the meantime, Buhler’s workers are still not back on the job. They voted to return to in March, but Buhler locked them out.

The Manitoba government has had enough. Without waiting for either side to ask for it, Labour Minister Becky Barrant has called in a mediator to attempt to settle the dispute.

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