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  • authored by news
  • published Wed, Oct 23, 2002

OLRB: Respect more important than rights

OLRB decision: Respect among leaders more important than rights of workers

Are backroom deals made by union leaders as good as the law? Can these pacts override the legal rights of working people? A decision of the Ontario Labour Relations Board suggests that the answer to both questions is "yes".

It all started in 1998 when Canadian grocery industry giant National Grocers negotiated collective agreements with UFCW Local 1000a for a number of its warehouses in southern Ontario. One of those was a contract for a new warehouse that would open in Cambridge Ontario in July 2001. The agreement for the new facility was ratified long before any workers were hired to work there, by workers at other warehouses represented by Local 1000a. Workers at the new "Maplegrove" facility in Cambridge found themselves covered by a collective agreement that was negotiated in 1998 and expiring in 2006.

In the fall of 2001, some of them decided they wanted to change unions. An application for certification was filed by the CAW in April of this year. The auto workers union claimed that, at best, the workers were covered by a voluntary recognition deal and were entitled to change unions in the first year of their contract. An OLRB-supervised vote was held in May. The ballot box was sealed however pending the outcome of a number of legal challenges launched by Local 1000a.

Chief among those challenges was a Memorandum of Agreement signed early in February 2000 between UFCW Locals 1000a and 175 and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Employees Union, which had just merged with the CAW around that time. That MOA resolved a number of OLRB complaints the UFCW locals and the RW had on the go over turf issues. It stated, in part, that the "parties agree to respect the bargaining rights of the other trade union parties whether acquired by certification or by voluntary recognition."

Local 1000a's position was that the MOA precluded the CAW from applying to represent the Maplegrove workers. It asked the OLRB to enforce the MOA and to dismiss the CAW's application for certification.

Acknowledging that it would be unusual to dismiss an application for certification for this reason, the OLRB nonetheless decided that public policy considerations that encourage settlements among unions outweighed the rights of workers to choose their union. The OLRB sided with Local 1000a, deciding that the settlement was - in effect - as good as law.

The Act reflects a policy of encouraging parties to resolve their own disputes. The Board has always considered that a resolution parties can reach themselves is preferable to one the Board could come up with. An agreement parties achieve themselves is more likely to reflect their real needs than a remedy imposed by the Board after divisive litigation. Of course, a settlement also saves the public and the parties the time and expense of litigation. The Act's enforcement mechanism highlights the interest its drafters had in promoting settlements… If a party settles a Board matter by promising to do something and then does not do it, that party will be in the same situation as if it violated the Act.

In response to the CAW's arguments that "respect for the bargaining rights of other unions" can mean many different things and should not prevent workers from exercising their legal rights, the OLRB decided that "respect" means compliance with the Canadian Labour Congress' "no raiding" rule.

The promises the parties made to each other in the MOA were to cease their ongoing attacks on each other before the Board and at arbitration and also not to attack each other in future. They promised to respect each other's bargaining rights. The CAW argues that the word 'respect' is not defined in the agreement and therefore can be given little meaning. Local 1000A rejects that assertion and says that everyone knows what 'respect' means in this context. It points out that the word is used in the Canadian Labour Congress constitution to connote a ban on raiding. The Board agrees that the word 'respect' used in this context is not ambiguous. The Board is informed by its experience in labour relations matters. It knows that when trade unions talk about 'respecting' each other's bargaining rights they are talking about not seeking to displace each other as the representatives of employees.

MFD has learned that CAW President Buzz Hargrove has notified the two UFCW locals that his union is terminating its commitment to the MOA, a move that will leave the CAW free to apply for certification again once the collective agreement at Maplegrove reaches its next "open period". Further hearing dates are scheduled to hear submissions on the Local 1000a's demand for damages.

  • posted by weiser
  • Wed, Oct 23, 2002 4:49pm

I'd ask for a judicial review of that weak and wrong-headed decision.

  • posted by Blackcat
  • Wed, Oct 23, 2002 5:30pm

The bosses laws and their courts:

MOU bad for employers (OFG - Lomans)....LRB says its worthless piece of paper.

MOU good for employers (National Grocers)....LRB says its a legal document.

Time to play by our own rules...

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