Wine Rack workers win important arbitration award

TORONTO, May 14, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Members of SEIU Local 2 employed by Wine Rack, won an important labour arbitration award yesterday. The decision can be viewed in full here.

“When you consider that the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan owns Wine Rack, the fact we can’t use our own Union bulletin boards without going through arbitration is extremely disappointing,” said Maxim Gontcharenko, a four-year employee. “I think teachers would find this quite surprising.”

Wine Rack had refused to let the Union put up a poster aimed at recruiting stewards sent to the company at the end of February 2021, arguing that the messaging on the poster, including basic trade union concepts like “Demand Living Wage Now”, and “Improve Scheduling Rights” were inflammatory. The Union filed a grievance leading to the arbitration hearing which took place on May 3, 2021.

Arbitrator Randi H. Abramsky found that the Wine Rack’s refusal was “unreasonable”, that the Union had the right to communicate “bargaining messaging” and “demands” to its members, and that there was nothing “inflammatory” about ideas like a “Demand Living Wage Now” or “Improve Scheduling Rights”.

The company’s counsel argued the Union should not be able to communicate its living wage messaging to employees in part because the Wine Rack did not pay a living wage to its employees, and said since the workforce was mostly part-time younger workers, the notion that they should be demanding a living wage was unrealistic and therefore inflammatory.

“The employer seems to believe that young and part-time workers don’t deserve a living wage,” said SEIU representative Ted Mansell. “We strongly disagree. It’s not right to build your business or your pension on poverty wages.”

The Union has also charged the company with an Unfair Labour Practice. A hearing is scheduled to take place on May 26. Wine Rack management has also refused to allow the Union to post negotiation updates on the bulletin boards. The workers fully expect to win that case as well and say the lengths they must go to exercise basic labour rights, demonstrates the company’s anti-worker behaviour.

Earlier this week, Wine Rack workers voted 86% in support of strike action. Wages, basic job security and fairness are key issues.
The workers will continue to come to the table and work to reach a fair deal but say they will not compromise on basic job security and fairness. They are also planning on launching a public campaign to raise awareness amongst Ontario teachers. They want to make sure teachers know how one of their pension fund assets, is treating workers and how that can present a risk to their plan.

“We’ll be asking teachers not to build their retirement security at our expense,” said Radha Bhagat, a Toronto-area employee.

SEIU Local 2 represents workers in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

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