Overseas News is a daily newspaper published in Chinese, covering local and international news. Its operations are located in a major Canadian urban centre. Last spring, the Journalists Union undertook an organizing campaign at Overseas News. Employees at the newspaper
Overseas News is a daily newspaper published in Chinese, covering local and international news. Its operations are located in a major Canadian urban centre.
Last spring, the Journalists Union undertook an organizing campaign at Overseas News. Employees at the newspaper complained that they were poorly paid, they received almost no vacation time, and they had no job security. During the organizing campaign, the employer laid off seven employees, citing financial problems as the reason. All seven were involved in the organizing campaign.
The union has filed several unfair labour practice complaints related to the fi rings. The labour relations board is still holding hearings into these complaints.
In June, salaried employees were informed that they would be receiving a wage increase to “offset inflation” sometime in the next few months. During the organizing campaign, the employer’s chief executive officer wrote an article about layoffs at the newspaper that was Overseas News’ main competitor, whose employees had unionized the previous year. The article ran on Overseas News’ front page. The employer also distributed a form that, it told the employees, they could sign and submit to the labour relations board if they wished to cancel any union memberships they had taken out during the organizing campaign. The employer also held several “information meetings” at which, employees reported, the chief executive officer discussed unionization and made references to the layoffs at the other newspaper.
A certification vote was scheduled for mid-September. The week before the vote, all salaried employees were informed that they would receive a wage increase of between five and 10 percent. The increases were retroactive to July 1; some employees received a letter announcing they would receive a certain percentage increase, and then received another letter a few days later announcing that they would receive a larger percentage increase.
Employees paid by commissions based on sales did not receive an increase.
When the certification vote was held, the majority of votes were in favour of unionization. The labour relations board issued a certification order in mid-October.
The union gave the employer notice to commence bargaining at the end of October and indicated that it would be ready to bargain by mid-December. The employer refused to give the bargaining committee members unpaid time off to prepare for bargaining, so the bargaining committee met
on weekends to prepare for the negotiations.
Between mid-October and the end of July, the parties met for approximately 20 days to bargain. By early May, the union had presented proposals on all monetary items other than wages. The employer indicated that it would not address any monetary items until the union presented its wage proposals. In July, the employer laid off four employees working in outside sales (the department that sells display advertising and works with regular advertising clients). Outside salespersons are paid a base salary and commissions; the commissions make up approximately 80 percent of the pay of most of the outside salespersons. The amount of commissions is based on whether the salesperson’s amount of sales is above or below a target set by the employer. At the same time as the employer laid off the outside sales employees, it hired two new employees in inside sales (the department that sells classified advertising and works with walk-in and phone-in advertising clients). Inside salespersons are paid a fixed salary. At the time of the layoffs, many of the client accounts in outside sales were transferred to inside sales.
A conciliator was brought into the negotiations in early August. On August 11, the union asked the conciliator to issue a “no board”—a declaration that the parties were too far apart in their positions to reach an agreement. On August 21, the union held a vote for a strike mandate, and over 85 percent of those voting supported a strike. On August 31, the conciliator issued the “no board” and withdrew from the negotiations.
The union set a strike deadline of midnight on September 17. The employer agreed to two more bargaining sessions, on September 15 and 16. At the session on September 16, the union identified to the employer three issues that it considered “bottleneck issues”:
– Job classifications
– The rate of sales commissions for employees in the outside sales department
– The conversion of part-time employees working full-time hours into full-time employees
At the same session, the employer presented what it called its final offer in the negotiations. The final offer addressed only one of the three “bottleneck issues.” The next day, the union rejected the final offer, but did not call a strike. The parties met again on September 20, and the employer again presented the final offer but with some modifications. The union rejected the modified offer and did not provide a counter-offer. The union started its strike on September 21, and no further negotiations have taken place in the two months that have passed since then.
Approximately one-third of the bargaining unit members have chosen to go back to work during that time.
The issues that have not been resolved in bargaining include:
– Proposals for increases in pay based on merit or seniority. The union has made several proposals that the employer has not responded to.
– Proposals involving new job classifications.
The employer has proposed creating several new job classifications. The union has refused to consider this proposal, on the basis that the new classifications would negatively affect the seniority of employees placed into those classifications.
– Proposals for changes in sales commissions.
The employer has proposed replacing the target based commission plan with commission rates based on a percentage of the employee’s sales. The union has not responded to this proposal.
– Proposals for changes to meal allowances for employees working overtime. The employer currently pays a meal allowance for each shift in which an employee works a minimum of five hours on a shift ending after 8 p.m. The employer has proposed paying meal allowances only to employees who work for at least five hours after 8 p.m. The union has refused to consider this proposal, on the basis that it would cause more than 20 employees to lose the meal allowance.
The Union’s Position
The union’s representative told the board that it had received no notice of the layoffs in outside sales, even though a union representative had met with the employer’s lawyer to discuss other issues the day before the layoff notices were issued.
The union representative said that the employees who had returned to work since the strike began had been intimidated by the employer’s actions during the organizing campaign and during bargaining, and were afraid of losing their jobs.
The union representative told the board that the employer had continually attempted to undermine the union throughout the organizing campaign and throughout the bargaining process, and contended that many of the employer’s proposals in the negotiations had been presented without reasonable justification. In that context, the union argued, arbitration was the only way a first collective agreement could be settled.
The Employer’s Position
The employer’s representative told the board that the layoffs in outside sales were because the outside salespersons spent most of their time out of the office visiting clients, and advertising agencies preferred to deal with employees who could easily be reached by phone or email. The employer’s representative also stated that some advertising agencies were already dealing with inside salespersons, so the employer was trying to gain efficiencies by assigning more advertising agency work to the inside sales department.
The employer’s chief negotiator told the board that he was unaware of the transfer of work from the outside sales department to the inside sales department.
The employer’s representative stated that the number of employees who had returned to work since the strike started was evidence that the union did not have the employees’ support. Thus, he argued, the union should not be “rewarded” with a first contract. The employer’s representative characterized the strike as part of the normal collective bargaining process, and told the board that if the union chose to strike as a means of intensifying its bargaining demands, it should not also be allowed to request an arbitrated first agreement.
This problem has been solved!