Employees awaiting collective agreement are entitled to distribute leaflets: arbitrator

Store suspended employees who handed out leaflets asking customers to stay away during negotiations for new collective agreement
|Canadian Employment Law Today

The British Columbia Arbitration Board has ruled a supermarket’s unionized employees are free to distribute leaflets that urge the public to shop elsewhere, even though the employees are not involved in a legal strike or lockout but merely awaiting a new collective agreement.

In 2006, several employees of Extra Food Store in Squamish, B.C., operated by Westfair Foods Ltd., were given suspensions after they handed out leaflets to members of the public at the store’s entrance. At the time, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union was negotiating a collective agreement with the store. The leaflets’ main message was to ask people to shop elsewhere until a new collective agreement was signed.

Although none of the union workers wore sandwich boards or placards and they did not prevent anyone from entering the store, the employer wrote to its employees on at least three occasions. One letter stated, “Despite what your union may be telling you, you do not have the right to disseminate information that is damaging to our store unless we are involved in a legal strike or lockout.”