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Wine Rack workers publicly call on Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to take action, launch public campaign

·4 min read

TORONTO, May 28, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Wine Rack workers, members of SEIU Local 2, gathered outside of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan offices, to call on OTPP to take immediate action.

The workers, who are in bargaining with Wine Rack, say these are not “negotiations as usual.”

“We are under attack by Wine Rack,” said Radha Bhagat, who works at a store in downtown Toronto.

What might come as a surprise to some, is who owns the company: The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, through one of its holdings, Arterra Wines Canada.

Some teachers are already voicing their support for the Wine Rack workers and are calling on their colleagues to do the same.

“I will speak out and I hope all other teachers across Ontario will speak out,” says Anthony Marco, a secondary school teacher in Hamilton for almost 24 years.

“If we own the OTPP, and the OTPP owns Arterra, and Arterra owns Wine Rack, then as one of the hundreds of thousands of Wine Rack’s owners, I’m telling management to deal fairly with your workers," says Marco, who is also the President of the Hamilton and District Labour Council and CLC Vice President for Ontario Region Labour Councils.

Chantal Mancini, a secondary school teacher for over 20 years says, “As an OTPP plan member and a unionized OSSTF teacher, I believe in fair wages and working conditions for all workers. The OTPP has a responsibility to ensure that these values are upheld. We cannot build a secure pension on the backs of workers.”

Mancini is also an executive member of the Hamilton and District Labour Council, and a PhD candidate with the School of Labour Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton.

One of the workers’ major concerns is that Wine Rack is refusing to fairly negotiate wages.

“Wine Rack was deemed an essential service early on and has remained open for the most part,” said Bhagat. “As employees we have been working non-stop and in close proximity with the public and we have seen an incredible increase in sales over the last year.”

Despite this, Wine Rack is insisting they accept wages the company will unilaterally set for non-union workers across the province, outside the GTA, where the cost of living is considerably lower.

Wine Rack is also refusing to implement a fair scheduling system that respects seniority and are instead insisting to continue with the current system wherein schedules are written up arbitrarily by store managers. Workers report many instances of favoritism.

“I know wine merchants who have had a new manager come into their store, hire their friends and give those new hires many of the store's hours when the original hires were ready and willing to work,” said William Bayliss, who has worked at Wine Rack for over two years.

The workers point to Wine Rack’s proposed changes to their Manager-in-Training program as another indicator that Union members are under attack. They say it is a thinly veiled scheme to further erode bargaining unit hours, if not eviscerate the Union altogether.

“When you consider that the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan owns Wine Rack, the fact we can’t use our own Union bulletin boards without going through arbitration is extremely disappointing,” said Maxim Gontcharenko, and employee of four years.

Gontcharenko’s comments are in reference to the company’s interference with the Union’s ability to communicate with the members by refusing access to the Union bulletin boards. The matter has been the subject of both an arbitration and an Unfair Labour Practice charge. The workers won the important arbitration award a couple of weeks ago, and the ULP decision is pending. Details of the legal complaints, as well as worker testimonies are available on a new campaign website, teachersforjustice.ca.

The campaign website includes a petition directed at the OTPP for educators to sign, that in part reads:

We cannot not build a secure pension, by having our investments attack workers … we call on the OTTP to ensure SEIU Local 2 members are treated fairly, with respect, and that our pension is protected!

For more information, including: Worker Profiles, Educator Statements, Petition to the OTPP, Legal Complaint, and Background, visit www.TeachersforJustice.ca.

Antony Marco’s full video statement: https://teachersforjustice.ca/anthony-marco-video
Chantal Mancini’s full video statement: https://teachersforjustice.ca/chantal-mancini-video

SEIU Local 2 represents workers in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Contact: Assya Moustaqim-Barrette
assyamb@seiulocal2.ca
416-274-4903