Written by Ronni Nordal, Q.C.
In 2002 the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) recognized the importance of picketing to union members and unions and gave priority to their freedom of expression during labour disputes when it recognized the right to secondary picketing in Pepsi-Cola v. RWDSU. Saskatchewan became a Province of Canada in 1905. The SCC is the highest court in Canada and the final court of appeal. The SCC “serves Canadians by deciding legal issues of public importance, thereby contributing to the development of all branches of law applicable within Canada.”
Perhaps in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic I missed the news that Saskatchewan is no longer a part of Canada as it appears that when it comes to unions and the right to secondary picketing at least the law of the land created by the Pepsi-Cola decision no longer applies in this province.
Unifor Local 594 was locked out by the Consumer’s Co-op Refineries Limited (CCRL) in early December 2019. As I wrote in my March 11, 2020 post, CCRL’s ability to obtain an interim injunction and ultimately to have Unifor Local 594 held in contempt of the injunction has substantially interfered with the Charter rights of Unifor Local 594 members to engage in picket activities for the purpose of collective bargaining. The December 27, 2019 Injunction places specific limits on Unifor Local 594’s ability to impede ingress/egress from 5 specific civic addresses in the City of Regina and from one facility in the Sherwood.
The lockout continues as CCRL rejected the recommendations of government appointed mediator Vince Ready and tabled a final offer which sought further concessions from Unifor Local 594 and included punitive return to work provisions. The CCRL requested a supervised vote by the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board which occurred and at the end of April, 89% of Unifor Local 594 rejected CCRL’s final offer.
Unifor Local 594 has called on the Government of Saskatchewan to legislate binding arbitration to end the lockout and the City of Regina has passed a motion to call on the Government to step in and end the lockout. To date the Government of Saskatchewan has indicated it will not legislate binding arbitration and that it will let the lockout continue indefinetely.
As I wrote in my May 8th post, Unifor Local 594 set up legal picket lines at Federated Co-op locations that are not covered by the December 27, 2019 injunction order which is limited to 5 locations in Regina and one in Sherwood. The injunction does not cover Moose Jaw, for example.
The attached video (below) was taken at the Co-op bulk fuel plant at Moose Jaw, SK on May 8, 2020. The owner has consented to it being included on this post. Two days prior, RCMP had attended the site and advised they had started an investigation into mischief and required everyone to identify themselves or face risk of being charged with obstruction.
As seen in the video, on May 8th RCMP claimed that Unifor Local 594 members were acting contrary to the December 27, 2019 order–which does not apply to Moose Jaw–and the members exercising their right to picket were threatened with arrest. It appears that while the Government of Saskatchewan will not assist the union to get its members back to work, the RCMP will assist the CCRL in limiting Unifor Local 594’s right to picket by threatening criminal mischief charges without legal grounds.
The Moose Jaw RCMP detachment is not alone in being pawns of the CCRL. Unifor Local 594 picket lines were set up in Moose Jaw and Southey on Monday, May 25th and RCMP officers again attended both sites indicating an investigation into criminal mischief had been started and as a part of that investigation they would be taking pictures of everyone at the picket line and required them to produce identification. RCMP further advised that anyone who did not comply would be charged with obstructing a criminal investigation.
Informational picket lines set up in four other rural locations were also met with RCMP presence and as of Monday May 25th Moose Jaw RCMP advised that if any trucks were stopped, arrests would be made. It is my understanding that picket lines were informational only and that the entry/exit of traffic was not being blocked.
The Supreme Court of Canada decision in Pepsi-Cola was the culmination of a long fight by organized labour for recognition of the importance of picketing in order to equalize the inherently unequal balance of power between employers and employees engaged in a labour dispute. Today in Saskatchewan the CCRL has chosen to lock out its workers and is allowed to continue operations using replacement workers housed on site in workcamps. Unifor Local 594 is using the legitimate tool of secondary picketing in an effort to reach a fair and reasonable collective bargaining agreement and is being wrongly denied the ability to exert leverage while it appears the CCRL can continue to operate as it wishes with the full assistance of the RCMP.
Perhaps someone needs to remind our national police force that they are to enforce the laws of Canada, not the laws according to CCRL.
Ronni Nordal, Q.C., “RCMP Tramples on Right to Picket on Behalf of Consumers Co-op Refinery in Saskatchewan” Canadian Law of Work Forum (June 2 2020): http://lawofwork.ca/?p=12597