British Columbia

MEC staff 'over the moon' after Victoria workers vote to unionize

The staff at Victoria's Mountain Equipment Co-op have voted to join a union, amid allegations management interfered with the vote by using "scare tactics" about the company's financial situation.

Employees vote 58 to 24 amid union allegations management tried to derail the vote using 'scare tactics'

The Mountain Equipment Co-op outlet in Victoria has more than 80 staff. They voted to unionize on Nov. 2. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The staff at Victoria's Mountain Equipment Co-op have voted to join a union, amid allegations management tried to derail the vote by using "scare tactics" about the company's financial situation.

Diana Perez of the United Food and Commercial Workers 1518 confirmed staff votes were counted Friday and the tally was 58 for the union, 24 against it and two ballots spoiled.

Alex Charron is a Victoria staffer who supported the union drive. He says word of the successful vote lifted a good deal of stress and tension from the workers.

"I think we're vindicated and it's great to see that the majority of the staff are behind it," said Charron, who added that the strength of the "yes" vote surprised him.

"I thought [management] had managed to turn people off with some of the pressure and fear tactics they had used. But it's nice to see that people saw through some of that misinformation and voted for hope and solidarity."

Union organizers stand outside the Victoria MEC store. (Alex Charron)

MEC in Vancouver voted to unionize in April.

"The folks in Vancouver are absolutely over the moon about it. They've been so supportive of us and are ready to welcome us into bargaining with open arms," said Charron.

The Vancouver Island store moved to join the same union representing the larger Vancouver flagship outlet of the Canadian outdoor equipment retailer in late October. Now with two stores unionized, employees arguably have a larger and more powerful bargaining position.

MEC staff say they were seeking better wages and job security but claim they were met with an "aggressive" management campaign to dissuade a union drive in both the Vancouver and Victoria stores.

Victoria staff initially voted Nov. 2 on whether to unionize, but the ballots remain sealed until Nov. 15. That's because MEC management challenged the vote at a B.C. Labour Board hearing. MEC managers argued the two stores are too different from each other to be represented by the same bargaining unit.

In a ruling Thursday, the Labour Relations Board disagreed and ordered the ballots counted.

Alex Charron works on his climbing wall at home. He started climbing at 15 and learned the sport with MEC gear. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

The developments came after union organizers alleged they were met with strong resistance from managers who met personally with staff to try to discourage a union.

MEC chief executive officer Philippe Arrata, the former CFO of Best Buy Canada, declined comment.

But memos to employees prior to the vote entitled "Updates from Phil" obtained by CBC News suggested MEC could be in financial trouble if the unionization drive were to succeed.

"MEC's current financial outlook is difficult ... our Co-op is being pressured by stiff competition and the challenges currently facing all 'bricks and mortars' retailers," read memos posted at the workplace.

"We shared major financial information [with the union's bargaining committee] which even our banks have not seen yet because we felt the information was important in understanding the seriousness of our situation in BC and across the Co-op."

UFCW 1518 confirmed that a formal unfair labour practices complaint has been filed over MEC's actions. 

MEC's chief human resources officer, Deb Paulsen, offered a written statement last week to CBC, saying the company campaign called "crunch time" was launched to inform staff about the financial "headwinds" hitting MEC and all retailers.

"We acted within our role as the employer to ensure our staff are informed of their vote choices," wrote Paulsen.

UFCW's regional director in Ontario says other MEC stores in that province are moving to organize in the wake of the Victoria vote.

Mountain Equipment Co-op has 22 outlets across Canada, including this store in Victoria, B.C. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a CBC Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@CBC.ca @ybrend

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