North Okanagan salad company fired workers for union involvement: Labour Board - InfoNews

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North Okanagan salad company fired workers for union involvement: Labour Board

Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Vegpro International
April 23, 2020 - 7:30 AM

The B.C. Labour Relations Board has ordered a North Okanagan food production company to reinstate two workers fired because they tried to help organize a campaign to unionize.

In the March 10 decision recently posted online, B.C. Labour Relations Board vice-chair Andres Barker finds Salade Etcetera! to have acted on anti-union motivation in the firing of the two workers.

The Coldstream lettuce company, which is a division of Vegpro International, firmly denies the two employees were dismissed because of anti-union sentiment and says the managers who made the decision to dismiss the workers were not aware of their union activities.

The 29-page decision features lengthy testimony from five Vegpro workers and step-by-step accounts in their dealings with the dismissed workers Leo Esposito and John Scheerschmidt.

The decision says on Feb. 5, Esposito and Scheerschmidt began approaching their colleagues at work and inquiring about their interest in joining a union. The next day Esposito was fired, and Scheerschmidt had his workplace accommodation cancelled which resulted in him accepting an offer from the company to dismiss him with severance pay.

Esposito and Scheerschmidt both worked on a production line cleaning produce in preparation for packaging.

The decision goes into great detail about scheduling changes to shifts put in place in December 2019 and how employees were given the choice of shifts based on seniority and some workers left and took severance pay. Scheerschmidt was told he could pick a new shift or leave and receive a payout. Scheerschmidt says he was put in an impossible position as the proposed shifts did not accommodate his medical condition and he had no choice but to take severance pay.

The company disputed this saying Scheerschmidt was not given an impossible ultimatum and the situation may have been a misunderstanding.

The decision says Esposito was dismissed as he "exhibited a history of insubordination and failure to follow workplace rules."

One manager testified Esposito was a great worker, but six months ago his attitude changed and he was no longer committed. Esposito was described as "belligerent" after he was questioned for yelling at another worker. Although he is not allowed to put his hands in his pockets due to hygiene reasons "he often had his hands in his pockets," says another worker.

However, the United Food and Commercial Workers' International Union, Local 1518 argued the company had a "clear anti-union bias" in both the dismissals.

The Labour Relations Board vice-chair agreed that the company had concerns with Esposito's performance, but questioned why he had no formal discipline on file or any record of any verbal warnings.

Ultimately the Board declared both workers were dismissed due to an anti-union motive by the company and ordered them to be reinstated and reimbursed for lost pay and benefits.

The board also ordered a Union bulletin board be put in the staff room for a minimum period of 180 days.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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