USW’s Work With New Canadians Leads to Organizing Success
May 18, 2012
Brad West, Staff Rep
The United Steelworkers campaign to empower newly-immigrated Canadians with the knowledge and confidence they need to stand up for their rights was pivotal to the success of a recent organizing drive at Peter Ross Group in Burnaby, B.C.
After a hard fought campaign that began in April 2011, 50 employees at the weatherproofing installation company were certified as new members of the USW after the Vice-Chair of the Labour Relations Board issued a remedial certification in response to a number of flagrant unfair labour practices that were committed by the employer during the organizing campaign.
“We’re proud to welcome these workers as the newest members of the United Steelworkers in District 3,” said Director Steve Hunt. “The courage they displayed by sticking together and standing up for their right to join to a union is a powerful reminder to all of us of the true meaning of solidarity.”
As the organizing drive began in earnest in April of 2011, USW Organizers Pablo Guerra and Gord McIntosh worked with a team of employees from the mainly Spanish and Iraqi communities, to quickly sign up over 70% of the workforce. After filing an application to the LRB for a vote, the employer tried everything to intimidate workers into abandoning their fight for a better working life. Allegations were made that if the workplace unionized, the business would shut down. On the eve of the vote, company officials phoned each employee to bully them into voting against the union.
But many of the workers at Peter Ross Group knew their rights and were ready to defend them – thanks to an educational program of the USW. Working with community and immigrant groups, the USW has been educating newcomers to Canada about worker rights in their new home. Many of them come from countries where unions are persecuted by the government and it is critical that they understand that there are rights in Canada, including that of joining a union, that are protected by law.
The union filed a number of unfair labour practices and was supported by the courageous actions of a number of employees and their families, who testified as to the intimidation tactics they faced from the employer. But the road to becoming USW members would not be easy. The Vice-Chair of the LRB found that the employer had done nothing wrong. The evidence was clear to both the organizers and the workers, and an appeal was filed. Upon hearing the evidence, the three-person appeal panel found that the Vice-Chair erred in law with respect to the decision on the unfair labour practices, and referred the matter back to the Vice-Chair to find a proper remedy.
Finally, on May 17 2012, the workers at Peter Ross Group won their fight as the Vice-Chair ruled “that given the level of support the union enjoyed when it applied for certification, the seriousness and the number of unfair labour practice the employer committed thereafter, and the vulnerability of at least a portion of the workfoce, the union would likely have retained the majority of its support in the representation vote had it not been for the employer’s unfair labour practices. I find that those unfair labour practices cannot be effectively remedied by a remedy short of remedial certification.”
The victory of these new USW members has demonstrated, in no uncertain terms, the value of working with diverse, ethnic groups and new immigrants to educate them on their rights as workers and to introduce them to the union as a vehicle for a better life, not only for themselves, but for their families and co-workers as well.