Molson posted job ads for temporary workers almost three weeks before lockout at Toronto brewery

 

Tue., Feb. 23, 2021

Almost three weeks before locking out 300 employees at its Toronto plant, Molson posted help wanted ads looking for temporary brewing, packaging and warehouse workers.

The ads, posted on a number of websites, including LinkedIn and Indeed, are a sign the company is playing hardball in its dispute with the Canadian Union of Brewery and General Workers Local 325, according to labour advocate Deena Ladd.

“They’re showing they’re playing hard ball. It’s not a good look for them,” said Ladd, executive director of the Workers Action Centre.

A posting for “brewing operator” said the successful candidate would have the opportunity to “work within a World Class Manufacturing environment that actively supports and benefits their community.” The temporary jobs would pay $16.94 per hour, according to the postings. A permanent brewing worker at the top of the wage scale earns $35.35 an hour.

A company spokesperson said the jobs were a routine annual posting for summer help, and not related to contract negotiations.

The postings were put up just around the time a no-board report declaring in impasse in negotiations was requested by the company. A no-board was declared Feb. 4. The brewing, packaging and warehouse jobs were listed by LinkedIn three weeks ago.

Saturday, Molson locked out 300 workers at one of its biggest plants in the country, just hours after workers overwhelmingly rejected the company’s final offer. The workers have been without a contract since their old collective bargaining agreement expired Dec. 31.

Labour lawyer Laurie Kent, who represents the union, said Local 325 was “surprised and disappointed” by the lockout, because the two sides had been making progress at the bargaining table.

“It is especially disappointing that Molson would do this during a pandemic when their workers have been declared essential,” said Kent, adding that Local 325 is optimistic that the company won’t actually use replacement workers during the lockout.

“The union would be deeply disappointed if the company chose to hire replacement workers, but is hopeful that it won’t come to that,” said Kent, a partner at Koskie Minsky.

Molson didn’t bring in replacement workers during a 2017 strike at the plant that lasted more than a month.

In 2007, the company took a harder line with workers at its Edmonton brewery, closing it permanently during an ongoing strike, throwing 136 people out of work.

Ladd said if the company brings in replacement workers this time, it would extend the labour dispute rather than bringing it to a quick conclusion.

“The whole point of something as drastic as a strike or a lockout is to move negotiations along. Hiring replacement workers takes the pressure off for getting something done,” said Ladd.

The company presented its final offer on Feb. 10. Employees voted on it Thursday and Friday.

The three-year offer included raises in each of the three years for two different tiers of employees, and a $1,000 ratification bonus.

The company’s offer also included transferring all but the most senior employees from a defined-benefit pension plan to a newer defined-contribution plan.

The union had asked the company to gradually eliminate the two-tier wage system, which had been in place at the plant since 2010. It caps new hires at 84 per cent of the previous wage scale. Employees hired before that point can hit the top of the scale.

A company proposal to bring in a “continental” schedule could have also meant 12-hour shifts with no overtime pay, said Kent.

The Toronto brewery, on Carlingview Dr. near Pearson airport, is one of Molson’s biggest in the country, and produces dozens of brands. Several industry sources said the plant produces three million hectolitres of beer per year. That’s 300 million litres, or roughly equivalent to 880 million bottles of beer.

Josh Rubin

Josh Rubin is a Toronto-based business reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @starbeer