Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sure Sounds Like Union-Busting To Me

Call it what you will, anything that circumvents union rights is odious, and it appears to have happened to Hamilton, Ontario. Independent television station station CHCH, a mainstay of the community for over 60 years, summarily fired all of its employees on Friday and filed for bankruptcy, despite the fact that its parent company, Channel Zero, is in good financial health. It then rehired less than half of the staff over the weekend under a new management company that in what appears to be a blatant case of contract-flipping, a practice that Pearson Airport seems to have popularized in recent years.

The Hamilton Spectator reported the following:
Nearly 130 full-time and almost 40 part-time employees of CHCH were left jobless Friday in the wake of Channel 11 Limited Partnership's stunning bankruptcy announcement.

Channel 11 LP, a subsidiary of Channel Zero, provided the news content to CHCH TV for the parent company and employed the on-air news personalities, producers and camera operators.

The bankrupt company listed nearly $4.5 million in liabilities versus just $60,000 in assets.

The largest liability, which was not secured, was about $1.6 million owed to the employees, which likely represents unpaid severance.

Shortly after the bankruptcy announcement, a privately held numbered company separate from Channel Zero offered 58 full-time jobs and 23 part-time jobs to some of the former CHCH news employees.
Many of the terminated, however, are not going gently into that good night. Long-time reporter Lauran Sabourin had this to say:
"We were told that Channel 11 was declaring bankruptcy and that our jobs were terminated," said Sabourin. "I was expecting that because we both [she and her cameraman] had seniority and are part of Unifor (their union), we would be protected because Dwight and I have been there for a number of years."

When she asked about the seniority, she was told that because this is a bankruptcy, the usual seniority rights do not apply.

And when she asked about severance, she was told once again that because this is a bankruptcy, if anyone wanted severance they would have to apply for it, but with a long list of creditors, employees usually end up near the bottom of that list.

Sabourin said 58 employees were made an offer by the company to work, but neither her or Penner were part of that group.

What appears to have happened, she adds, is that all the employees of the company were terminated under the bankruptcy rules, a separate company has been set up and they have rehired some of the former employees.

"I never expected something like this. I always thought that I would leave CH on my own terms," said Sabourin. "I never expected to be kicked to the curb like this. I loved working in Niagara and have loved the people here.
Long-time weatherman, Matt Hayes, who you will see in the clip below, offered this:
"It happens. But I think the thing that really stung in all that was there is no severance. And, you know, especially at this time of year, that's really hard."
Is there a smoking gun in all of this? While station owners deny it, it would seem that there is evidence of a coldly-crafted scheme to do an end-run around the union:
A leaked email by a CHCH TV account manager suggests that a subsidiary company was taken into bankruptcy Friday to help the television station avoid its contractual obligations to unionized employees under the collective bargaining agreement.

The email, apparently sent to a prospective advertising client by Kathleen Marks, stated "we just needed to disband the previous company and form a new one where changes could be made, free from old Union employees and their demands and free from carry-over debt of CanWest."

Will the terminated employees see any form of justice? Given the many loopholes that current labour laws allow in Ontario, my guess is that the prospects for redress are very dim indeed.


  1. Lorne, this is pure evil. A new technique of union busting has started.For new employees union will be scary world.

    I am not sure unions come under provincial or federal government. If the federal government has some say in this, hopefully they can put a stop to it.

    1. While I believe labour laws are provincial, LD, I think bankruptcy comes under federal jurisdiction. The best of both worlds for the union-busters in our midst.

    2. It all depends on whether the station was a provincial or federally registered company.

      For example, here in Nova Scotia, the power (hydro to you lot) company is provincially registered and has to obey provincial labour laws and any others that apply.

      Telecom companies like Bell are federally regulated and have to obey federal rules.

      This led here to much more advanced labour safety laws under the provincial government, while Bell followed lackadaisical federal rules. The upshot was that the signage and traffic control, as a small example, on roadside work was entirely different depending on who was running the show. Terrible.

      The provinces cannot dictate any terms whatsoever to the feds, so we ended up with half-a**ed rules followed by federally-regulated companies who cared not one whit about actual safety.

      As a TV station, I would expect CHCH to be entirely within federal jurisdiction.

    3. Thanks for the information, Anon.

    4. Anon is right, Lorne. Jurisdiction over labour depends on whether the employer is under federal or provincial law. That's why Harper was so fast to force workers in the railways or airlines back to work before they could even go on strike.

  2. It's pretty clear that long fought for rules mean nothing to the owners of Channel Zero, Lorne.

    1. Clearly, the labour laws we currently have need reexamination, Owen.

  3. Lorne, l came across the following:

    ♢ C-377 will cost millions to administer

    So why are the Harper Conservatives so fixated on C-377?

    And why do seven provinces, every union and labour organization in Canada, the National Hockey League Players' Association, the Canadian Bar Association, police associations and many others all strongly object to the legislation?

    Bill C-377 is clearly intended to tie unions up with costly bureaucratic administrative costs, though Conservatives say it is about "transparency."

    Every union expenditure over $5,000 must be publicly reported and posted online -- something no other group faces -- not organizations for lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers or indeed any professional association.

    That means not only salaries of staff but also fees for lawyers, accountants, contractors and consultants (including firms like mine). Plus the cost of collective bargaining, pension funds, education and political action, administration and much more.

    And taxpayers can expect the legislation will cost the federal government itself $20 million to administer in its first two years. As York University law professor David Doorey says: "Bill C-377 is government red tape on steroids."

    Yet it's the work of a Conservative government that says it opposes bureaucracy -- unless it applies to its political opponents.

    Breaking their own rules and voting down their own representative to crush their opponents with red tape they profess to hate -- the Conservatives are running all the red lights on their own morality

    Harper was all set to get rid of unions.

    1. Thanks for this information, LD. Trudeau promised to repeal this bill. I hope he acts quickly:

  4. I'm with LD. This is "pure evil." I wonder how these revelations will play with the Bankruptcy Court. In ancient common law it's constituted as a distinct legal entity described as the "highest court of Equity." Even today it has its own act, its own regulations and its own rules of court and its own offences and penalties. I once had to argue that with a case from the 15th century but I got the point through to a 3-judge panel of the BC Court of Appeal. This situation seems to stray well into abuse of process territory so there's some chance the court could intervene to block these shenanigans. Not saying that's probable. These old principles, while still valid, simply aren't well understood today and rarely surface in practice. You have to be able to go back to the Tudor era and the Court of Chancery and tell unreceptive judges "look, you're bound by this."

    1. Thanks for this information, Mound. The union representing the employees up to this point has been Unifor, which I think has fairly deep pockets. Let's hope they use their resources to hire a very good lawyer.