OCS ends contract with province’s first cannabis-related union

Ontario's cannabis retailer has permanently laid off around 15 call centre workers


The Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) is ending its contract with the call centre employees of Line One Contact Centres, the first cannabis-related workforce to form a union in the province.

The Toronto-based employees of the Calgary company voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW) union back in March 2019.

A communications representative from UFCW confirmed via email that Line One’s contract with the OCS will end on February 12.

The move means around 15 call-centre employees are being permanently laid off, the union says.

“Our union was shocked and disappointed by the surprise permanent layoff announcement at Line One,” said Wayne Hanley, president of the UFCW Local 1006A, in a statement to NOW. “We will continue to assist members during this uncertain time, ensuring that the terms of their union contract and the Employment Standards Act are followed to the letter.”

Asked for comment, an OCS rep said the provincial cannabis retailer is “unable to comment on contracts with vendors.”

Cannabis workers are considered agricultural workers in Ontario, making it difficult for employees to seek labour protections – they are covered by the Agricultural Employees Protection Act (AEPA) instead of the Labour Relations Act, meaning they’re forbidden from unionizing.

The UFCW has been fighting to enable cannabis workers to unionize since organizing with workers at MedReleaf in Markham in 2016.

However, the Ontario Labour Relations Board deemed the workers to be agricultural and denied them the right to form a union at the time. That prompted the UFCW to launch a constitutional challenge in 2019 against the legislation that excludes agricultural workers from the right to collective bargaining.

The union argues the AEPA violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by failing to protect the freedom of association rights of agriculture workers.

Currently, Ontario and Alberta are the only regions that exclude agricultural workers from the Labour Relations Act.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the contract between OCS and Line One was set to expire in 2022. The story should have stated that it is the union contract between the UFCW and Line One that will expire in 2022.

@nowtoronto

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