The Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled in favour of laid-off workers at Richtree restaurant in the Eaton Centre in Toronto, who ratified at new contract in September.
Richtree claimed it was no longer obligated to its unionized workers, members of Unite Here Local 75, after shutting the restaurant down and then moving to another part of the mall and reopening with non-union workers. The OLRB rejected the claim that the layoffs were justified because the restaurant had changed its address, a victory for workers—some who worked for Richtree for 25 years.
Socialist.ca spoke to an organizer of labour movement solidarity for Richtree workers, about how this victory was achieved.
Socialist.ca: Do you think the protests had any impact on the decision by the labour board?
I can say with certainty that every aspect of the campaign was responsible for this victory. This company was initially completely unwilling to negotiate, and it took a major fight just to get them to sit down at the table, much less agree to more or less everything the union was asking for.
Socialist.ca: Do you think all the staff will receive the same hours as before? Or do you think with all this extra staff they will still be able to earn a living wage?
After such a long struggle, it’s questionable how many of the 50 workers will actually want to go back. Unfortunately, a year is a long time.
But certainly those workers who had been working there 25 years and accumulated respect and seniority, or those workers who didn't find much of anything else in today's difficult job market, will be happy to go back to work at the Richtree. With a place so big, and a workforce of 200 people, it should easily be possible to integrate them into the schedule without anyone having shorter hours for it.
As for the labour board, well, the labour board makes all sorts of questionable decisions. Who knows what they would have said if there wasn't such a spirited and public campaign in action.
The labour movement of the 1980s and 90s relied on backroom deals and courts alone to win good deals for their workers. Look where we've ended up as a result? Look where unions have ended up.
Look at where labour standards and wages today. Look at how much power unions have lost since governments started implementing austerity and neoliberalism and not worrying so much about labour peace. That’s where simply relying on courts and negotiations gets you. The court challenges are important, but labour struggles are won by organised, mobilised workers taking action, not court cases alone.
History pretty much proves it. UNITE HERE on the other hand has had a long history of rank-and-file organising and taking the fight into the workplace and onto the streets, and in these neoliberal times, UNITE HERE has actually raised the standard of hospitality workers to that of unionised industrial workers.
If you fight, you win. But it has to be a real fight.