Ontario court slaps picketing restrictions on striking workers

Reports of assaults, vandalism and failure to follow previous court orders on the picket line
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 04/12/2010

Striking workers at an Ontario mining and smelting company have had their picketing significantly restricted by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

Workers at Vale INCO, a mining, milling, smelting and refining company in Sudbury, Ont., went on strike on July 13, 2009. From the beginning of the strike, Vale said picketers blocked the entrances to several of the company’s locations, illegally denying it access to its facilities. The union said it was acting within its rights to picket and delay traffic into and out of the workplaces.

Vale was able to obtain legal orders instructing the striking workers not to delay any emergency or environmental vehicles or key staff at the entrances to Vale’s property. Picketers were also limited to delaying other vehicles a maximum of 12 or 15 minutes, depending on the time of day and not to cause any delay for those leaving Vale premises.

The strike became more acrimonious and Vale claimed striking workers were violating the legal orders. It said masked picketers continued to delay all vehicles for between 27 minutes and seven hours and some of its staff were assaulted when they tried to enter the premises. The picket lines were also unsafe from large fires set so Vale trucks carrying explosives and fuel couldn’t cross the lines. Hydro wires were cut, rail equipment damaged and picketers littered the roads with nail spikes designed to puncture truck tires. Vale requested further orders to limit picketing.

The union acknowledged there were a few isolated incidents but the strike was largely peaceful and further orders that would restrict their right to picket were not necessary.

The court considered the competing sides and the balance between the two, such as: the union’s right to picket; Vale’s right to carry on its business and have access to its property; the safety of people who had to cross the picket line; and the importance of upholding the previous court orders under the rule of law.

The court found the strikers’ flouting of the previous orders and its intimidation tactics were unacceptable and found it was necessary to intervene and issue additional legal restrictions to avoid the strike from getting further out of hand. It ordered there could be no more than eight picketers at any picket line location and nobody could hide their faces by wearing balaclavas or masks. The court also stipulated police should intervene if the union breached any of the legal orders again.

“Although it may be expected Vale’s access to its property will be impeded somewhat by lawful information picketing undertaken in compliance with the picket line protocols ordered by this court, it is inappropriate that it be denied access outside of those protocols or through other tortious or criminal behavior,” said the court.

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