Canadian workers vote to unionize, and Canada Goose strikes back

Written by By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN

Canada Goose is still trying to quell the growing labor unrest among its employees.

On Monday workers at Canada Goose’s Winnipeg, Manitoba, factory voted to unionize. For years they’ve been working in legal limbo, fighting for collective bargaining rights and compensation. Now that the company has acquiesced to their wishes, it will face legal problems if the union reaches agreement.

Canada Goose employs about 250 workers at its Winnipeg, Manitoba, factory. Credit: Illustration by Bloomberg / Toronto, Canada.

Some 46 workers — about a third of the factory’s workforce — voted to unionize in a secret ballot election in October. Canada Goose didn’t support the effort, and the factory continued to be a non-union workplace, according to the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

But the vote over organized labor is not what was most striking. It was the size of the victory, given that Canada Goose has a recent history of resisting unionization efforts.

“They’re now a unionized factory,” said Dan Kelly, the president of CUPE Canada. “To say that this is only a few workers is wrong.”

A former spokesperson for Canada Goose said the company would not comment on the unionization vote.

These workers have been working in legal limbo. Credit: Andrew Propp, Canada Goose

When in the past workers have gone out on strike, Canada Goose has been more than willing to call them out for it. In 2012, the company shut down some operations in Canada and threatened to close its locations in Montreal and Toronto if workers went out on strike, according to CUPE.

It has even tried to hire replacements for workers who have gone on strike, said Andy Reimer, a lawyer for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

One worker, Don Anderson, spoke of a similar experience in 2012. Anderson, an employee at Canada Goose’s Toronto location, went on strike for a year after Canada Goose threatened to terminate him. When he returned, Canada Goose said they wouldn’t rehire him because he had been on strike, he said.

Workers say the Harper government tried to protect Canada Goose from union pressure. Credit: Andrew Propp, Canada Goose

The worker was told he was being fired because he had been on strike, but because the company had changed managers, he was actually being put out on the street, he said. The factory agreed to rehire him. He later claimed that management told him that employees could get fired for calling out sick or choosing not to work if they were union supporters.

A temporary employee at a Canada Goose plant during a 2008 strike. Credit: Andrew Propp, Canada Goose

The Harper government, now in its final weeks, tried to protect Canada Goose from union pressure, many employees said. (Canada Goose moved from Toronto to a new, 15,000-square-foot factory in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, after a strike there in 2007.) They developed a policy that said temporary employees would not have to pay union dues, provided they did not become a lawyer or counselor. The policy was later changed, and all permanent employees are now required to pay.

Canada Goose says this policy is in compliance with the law.

“We do not use misleading advertising. We are transparent with our products,” said Tim Smith, the company’s chief information officer. He said the company would “advocate” for those who voted for unionization.

This time, however, Canada Goose said no.

“Our brand is made in Canada, our clients and vendors are employees of Canada Goose,” said Smith. “And we are concerned that this unionization would encourage workers in our other facilities, like those in Toronto and Montreal, to seek the same benefits that they are now entitled to in the Winnipeg facility.”

CUPE has submitted a petition to Canada Goose with its members’ signatures, but they have not yet received a response, said Kelly.

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