Labour Briefs (December 18, 2000)

Seattle — Customer service employees at the Internet-retailer giant are trying, for a third time, to unionize. More than 400 employees in the customer service department of’s Seattle headquarters are after improved job security and a say in overtime and holiday scheduling. Meanwhile in Canada, one union says it is ready to organize disillusioned employees of Canadian dotcom companies. While the sector was at one time the most anti-union, employees have grown weary of long hours and mediocre pay, said on organizer for the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP). employs more than 7,500 worldwide and none of its American employees have union representation.

Toronto — Retail employers are raising hourly wages, adding commission, profit-sharing and other bonuses to attract employees for the holiday shopping rush. Retailers typically increase staff anywhere from 10 to 20 per cent and in some cases more during the Christmas rush. While retailers across the country have been enjoying the benefits of a good economy, they’ve also struggled with the reduced loyalty of staff who know they can easily walk out the door and into another job. The Hudson’s Bay Co. hired nearly 10,000 extra workers above it usual complement of 70,000 to deal with the Christmas rush from late October to mid-January. To attract employees the retailer offered wages four per cent higher then it had in the past.

Toronto — The Ontario government tried to unfairly “seize control” of the collective bargaining process by choosing retired judges to act as arbitrators in the negotiation of hospital contracts, the Ontario Court of Appeals has ruled in ordering the province to return to the process of selecting arbitrators from a pool of candidates agreed to by both unions and the government. The decision was a major victory for tens of thousands of unionized hospital workers, as well as police and firefighters, who don’t have the right to strike. Unions representing the workers say the government tried to take over the selection of arbitrators as a way to cut spending on health care. The court also said the appointment of retired judges raised serious doubts about their fairness since they were dependent on the government for future work.

Ottawa — Expansion plans of Canadian telecom giant Nortel are being threatened by plumbers angry about new proposed Ontario legislation they consider anti-union. The disgruntled tradespeople had been working 10-hour shifts six days a week in order to complete Nortel’s 180,000 square-foot, $150-million fibre-optic laser by next July. After refusing to work overtime, the 25 members of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 71 said they would only work the 36-hour work week as required by their contract.

Los Angeles — A California company that wanted to move to Mexico rather than allow employees to unionize has been ordered by a federal judge to stay in California. Quadrtech Corporation announced it would move to Mexico a day after the Communication Workers of America was certified to represent its workers. While the company claimed it was making the move for economic reasons, the judge issued an injunction preventing it from laying off 118 workers and moving to Mexico until labour complaints against it were resolved. The National Labour Relations Board said this was the first time an American company trying to escape unionization by leaving the country — an increasingly common practice in recent years say labour experts — had been prevented from doing so.

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