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Unions say firings for unionizing becoming more common under Ontario labour laws

Canadian Press, Tuesday 22 February 2000 6:58 PM ET

TORONTO (CP) - When Pierre Fortier realized unionized electricians at his Ottawa construction site were making much more money doing the same work, he figured joining a union made good sense.

But just before a vote to unionize the Drycore Electric site took place Feb. 14, Fortier, 26, and nine of his co-workers were let go. "I was really shocked that day," Fortier told a news conference on Tuesday. "They just came out and basically told us that we were no longer needed when . . . there was plenty of work."

Drycore says the workers were let go temporarily because of a lack of work, but the unions maintain the workers were fired because they wanted to unionize.

And they accuse the Ontario government of gutting labour laws that would have protected the workers.

"There are more and more examples of situations similar to Drycore coming to my attention almost every day," Wayne Samuelson, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, told the news conference.

At the root of the problem, Samuelson said, are changes the Conservative government made with Bill 31 in 1998 to longstanding laws. Those laws had allowed for automatic certification of unions where employers had interfered in an organizing drive.

"We're not talking about employers who interfere a little bit. We're talking about the very worst of bad employers," Samuelson said.

Labour Minister Chris Stockwell disputed Samuelson's assertion that complaints of retaliation and firings are on the increase.

"There's been no huge and dramatic increase (in Ontario Labour Relations Board hearings) that would indicate that anyone is doing anything differently than before Bill 31," he said in an interview Tuesday.

Drycore denies any interference or retaliation but the company does say it wants to stay non-union.

"Let people who want to be unionized join the union," said vice-president Jean-Marc Gaumond. "If they want to be non-union, join Drycore Electric."

The company also accuses the labour relations board of moving too quickly to hold a certification vote because it says most of its 67 workers didn't want a union.

Because the Drycore matter is before the labour board, Stockwell wouldn't comment specifically on the case.

But he said that Bill 31 has put the decision to unionize back in the hands of workers and he disputed labour claims that Tory laws have left workers without protection.

"There are still severe penalties in place that if an employer wants to intimidate (or) coerce, they're subject to very severe fines," Stockwell said.

"If there's some monkey business going on, someone should be fined, someone should be called on the carpet and a different vote should be taken."

Labour wants the Conservative government to strengthen worker protections.

At the very least, Samuelson said, Premier Mike Harris should review the effects the legislation has had in creating what he called a climate of "incredible fear" for workers who want to organize because of the threat of retaliation.

"It's happening in organizing drives every day right across the province," said Samuelson, though he didn't provide specific numbers.

Copyright The Canadian Press, 2000