Union alleges ‘a climate of fear’
Workers United says immigrant workforce in Winnipeg mistreated; launches campaign for union recognition
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/01/2021 (689 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
After its efforts to form a union at one of three Canada Goose plants in Winnipeg was denied in late 2019, the Workers United union continues to organize and has just launched a public campaign for union recognition highlighting what it says are deteriorating workplace conditions.
Although the company’s ownership is publicly traded, the union is focusing its ire on Bain Capital. The U.S. private equity firm acquired about 70 per cent of Canada Goose in 2013. The company went public in 2017.
In a statement, the union asks, “Is Bain’s Canada Goose becoming a sweatshop on Canadian soil?”
The union contends that the largely immigrant workforce in Winnipeg is being mistreated and taken advantage of.
A statement from Workers United said, “Workers at one (Winnipeg) plant report that a climate of fear has descended.”
The union contends that the company’s relative openness to unionization changed after the Bain investment.
Workers United represents about 1,200 workers at two Canada Goose plants in Toronto where Barry Fowlie, longtime head of Workers United Canadian Council, said the union has relatively good relationships with the company.
“We think a change appeared to happen just shortly after they expanded into Winnipeg,” he said. “They had a significant change in the structure of the organization when Bain Capital came in.”
Not surprisingly, the company takes issue with the union’s characterization, saying it has gone out of its way to hire and train a diverse workforce in Canada and in particular in Winnipeg that now represents more than 20 per cent of the Canadian cut-and-sew industry.
“Canada Goose and its management team recognize and respect the right of all workers in Canada to organize in accordance with local law,” said a company statement provided to the Free Press on Thursday. “Since 2017, and prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of unionized employees at Canada Goose has increased by more than 175 per cent. We’re proud of our employees and we are proud to be made in Canada.”
The company employs about 1,200 workers in Winnipeg in three locations. The union’s organization efforts in Winnipeg in 2019 targeted just one of the plants. The company argued that because of the integration of the three plants, unionization at just one would be disruptive.
In a ruling in December 2019, the Manitoba Labour Board agreed with the company.
In that same labour board hearing, there were also charges of unfair labour practices, which the labour board agreed was the case. The company fired a manager as a result.
The labour board heard both the matter of the appropriateness of the bargaining unit and the unfair labour practices allegations at the same time.
Raymond MacIsaac, acting registrar of the Manitoba Labour Board, said the 62-page ruling “was not a simple matter. There were a lot of moving parts.”
Fowlie said from the union’s point of view it lost on a technical ruling.
“It was a temporary setback as far as we are concerned and we will continue on and do what we are going to do,” he said.
As for this new public awareness campaign launched by the union, the company said, “it was the decision of the Manitoba Labour Board who rejected the application for a union, finding the requirements were not met. As a business, Canada Goose and its management respect and recognize the right of all Canadians to organize.”
This past summer, the Free Press reported that workers were upset after out-of-order bathrooms were closed, forcing workers to use outdoor portable toilets they say were cleaned only every four days.
Some workers said they were forced to use their lunch breaks to leave the plant to find public washrooms to use.
Union officials say there is an uncommon level of fear among employees and that many feel intimidated and poorly treated by supervisors.
They believe the situation is that much more objectionable because of the fact the company is a maker of luxury products and it markets itself as community-minded, receiving plenty of accolades from politicians.
Fowlie said, “If workers weren’t interested in forming a union we would not be there. We are there because they are reaching out.”
He also said that attitude of fear that exists in the Winnipeg workplaces is in stark contrast to conditions that exist in the Toronto plants.
“They seem to be a different creature in Winnipeg,” he said.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.