Secret Partnering Agreement Surfaces
"Partner Union" Traded Away Bargaining Power
Ontario Labour Relations Board decisions issued in 1998 reveal an alarming pact between the UFCW and Provigo Foods - one that the union fought hard to keep secret. In a "Partnering Agreement" signed off a year earlier covering a number of Provigo's Ontario Maxi stores, the UFCW agreed to provisions that would see each store form a separate bargaining unit with collective agreement expiry dates "staggered so that not more than one store in any region or sector is vulnerable to strike action at any time". In addition, the union agreed to refrain, seemingly in perpetuity, from exercising its right to ask the LRB to combine separate stores into one large bargaining unit. For its part, the company agreed to grant the UFCW, or "Partner Union" as it is referred to in the agreement, with unimpeded access to new stores for purposes of organizing.
The Partnering Agreement first came to light when the UFCW's voluntary recognition was challenged by the Steelworkers Union which had applied for certification at Maxi stores in the Toronto and Hamilton area. The UFCW initially produced the Partnering Agreement at the OLRB hearings with a number of sections blacked out. Compelled to produce the Partnering Agreement in its entirely, lawyers for the UFCW pleaded that the Board impose a ban on publication of the document. The Board declined to do so. Portions of the Partnering Agreement are reproduced in the OLRB decisions, posted here.
The ability to strike an employer at multiple locations at one time can give a union enormous leverage at negotiations. The UFCW-Provigo Partnering Agreement effectively deprived the union, and the members, of one of its most powerful tools - all for the sake of easy access to hundreds of new members.