With the unfortunate election of the Harris Tories as the provincial
government in 1995, the Union joined together with the rest of the Labour
movement in the marches, demonstrations, and shutdowns that made up
the Labour Days of Protest.
These demonstrations protested against the Harris cuts to education
and health care, as well as the vicious changes made to the Ontario
Labour relations Act. The labour law changes made it much more difficult
to organize new groups of workers, and much easier to decertify, and
removed all lawyers from the collective agreements we had negotiated
The staff of the largest SEIU Local in Canada, Local 204, joined the
Union. The 1996 negotiations with Labatt were also particularly difficult.
These negotiations were conducted in the shadow of a firm Company decision
to close one of the Ontario Breweries, likely Toronto, during the life
of the agreement. In consequence, the goal of the bargaining committee
was to dramatically improve the early retirement provisions of the pension
plan so that, if one of the plants closed, a high percentage of the
employees could retire at age 55. Building on its experience with Molson’s,
the Union also wanted an agreement that any employee who wanted a job
in the brewery remaining in operation be guaranteed a job with seniority.
After a very intense round of bargaining all those objectives were achieved.
The new collective agreement effectively increased the 85-point pension,
and a much higher and fuller pension was established at 25 years of
service instead of 30. In addition, the pension amounts for normal,
early, and 85-point pensions increased by 30%. Wages increased by more
than 15% and employees at both Breweries were guaranteed transfer rights
to the remaining plant in the event of a closure. The contract was ratified
by more than 96% of the members voting.
Nineteen ninety-six also saw the hiring of Brother Rui Amorin as Director
of Organizing. Over the next two years, the Union grew dramatically
as the 1,000 member Med-Chem Laboratories was organized. In 1997, the
SEIU International staff and approximately 200 security guards in seven
Toronto area hospitals, and at Harold’s Security joined, while, in the
following year, employees at the Wesley Urban Ministries and the St.
Joseph’s Immigrant Women’s Center joined. Our membership topped the
Unfortunately, that membership level did not last long. The years 1999
/ 2000 saw both the bankruptcy of Med-Chem Laboratories, and the sale
by Nestle of its Laura Secord business, which entailed significant downsizing.
In both these cases the Union once again entered the financial markets
and made serious, and, particularly in the case of Med-Chem, heartbreakingly
unsuccessful attempts to engineer employee-led purchases.
In the Med-Chem case the Union partnered with the Ontario Teachers’
Pension Fund to raise almost $100,000,000.00, and made a bid for the
business. If successful, we could have kept our thousand members working.
While our bid was, in fact, as good as the bid accepted by the Receiver,
our financing could not be made unconditional until 2 working days after
the Receiver’s deadline. Unwilling to wait, the Receiver accepted the
rival bid of Canadian Medical Laboratories which proceeded to close
the lab throwing 850 of our members out of work.
The sale had to be approved by the Court, and the Union launched a vigorous
challenge, asking the Court to not approve the sale, and to approve
our offer (which was as good) and would save the jobs of 850 people.
Unfortunately the Court decided that it was more important to uphold
the “good faith business decision” of the Receiver than to
save the jobs. Our appeal to the Court of Appeal was unsuccessful, the
sale to CML went ahead, and the lab was closed and 850 jobs lost although
we retained about 150 members in the collection centers, which CML continued
to operate. Brother Nelson was elected as one of the Inspectors in the
Med-Chem bankruptcy and continues to act in that capacity so that the
employees who lost their jobs get full severance and notice of termination
In the Laura Secord case, the Union partnered with a New York based
financier – Harrowstone – and made a strong bid of more than $70,000,000.00
– which was, unfortunately, not enough. The Laura Secord business (ironically
named after the famous Canadian heroine who warned of the 1812 American
invasion at great risk to herself) was sold to a Chicago based U.S.
Company. In the result there was a 20% downsizing of the full time employee
group. The Union’s membership returned to the 3,500 range.