Labour briefs (August 14, 2000)

Toronto — Guaranteeing employees 10 days a year of “job-protected family crisis leave” is one of the proposals Ontario is putting forth in a plan to overhaul its Employment Standards Act and related workplace legislation. Also included in a consultation paper for review: more flexibility for employers and employees to design flex-time arrangements, simpler rules for vacation time, clearer definitions, monetary penalties for violations and anti-reprisal provisions.

Detroit — The United Auto Workers union is using the Internet to court workers at 17 Michigan plants owned by Canadian parts maker Magna International. In order to persuade workers to unionize, has been set up.

Sudbury, Ont. — In an effort to increase production and lower costs, Inco Limited recently concluded a collective agreement that ties employee compensation to the company’s operating earnings. “This agreement enables employees to see how their actions can have a direct impact on the division’s results, but, equally important, in their paycheques,” said Ron Aelick, president of Inco’s Ontario Division.

Winnipeg — Manitoba Labour Minister Becky Barrett has introduced amendments to the Labour Relations Act that clarify successor rights and obligations when a business moves from federal to provincial jurisdiction following a change of ownership. The new owner will be bound by any collective agreement in force at the time of the sale.

Montreal — Some unions are making it difficult for Canadian newspapers trying to go online. Quebecor Inc. shut down the Web sites of two of its biggest Quebec newspapers (Le Journal de Montreal and Le Journal de Quebec) recently because of disputes. The unions want assurance that they will represent the editors and reporters who provide content for the Web-based publications. They also want to ensure that reporters and editors are paid extra when newspapers reprint stories online, or require their staff members to file timely updates for online use throughout the day.

Sudbury, Ont. — Laurentian University has launched a new program in labour and trade union studies. By offering many of the courses in the evening and over the Internet, the program is geared toward working people. The school expects the program to be popular with students who want to work for labour unions as well as organizations that want to promote social justice.

Striking journalists at the Calgary Herald recently discovered, the hard way, just how difficult it is to unionize with very little leverage.

After a bitter eight-month walkout, the journalists agreed to a back-to-work agreement that disbanded their bargaining unit.
But the journalists never really had a chance, said Allen Ponak, professor of Industrial Relations in the faculty of management at the University of Calgary.

“Very simply, the employer continued to operate, put out the paper and did not lose much in the way of revenues,” he said. The union had little public support and customers didn’t even have to cross the picket line to get their product since it was delivered right to their door. Similarly, most of those who worked to put out the paper could also avoid the pickets by sending in stories electronically. The Herald, owned by newspaper giant Conrad Black, was able to bring in journalists from other papers across the country.

First contracts are notoriously difficult, said Ponak. “Only after a few rounds of bargaining, do things settle down,” and more mature relationships develop between the two sides.
Because of this there is a greater likelihood of a strike by unions trying to get their first agreement and some provinces allow either side to request binding arbitration, an option not available in Alberta.

The union claimed Alberta’s labour laws are unfair for unions.
Alberta is a more employer-friendly province than most, Ponak admitted, but while mandatory arbitration may have led to a first contract, it is likely the next contract would have been even more difficult to reach.

Latest stories