Self-Serving Arguments to Justify Company Abuse

Windsor Salt picket line, March 1, 2023.

When Justice Leach of the Ontario Superior Court issued the injunction against striking Windsor Salt workers, his reasons focused on three main matters he said were of concern. The first was that the behaviour of certain picketers was "unlawful" in that it not only didn't permit the company agents or others to enter the facility, but that it also included trespassing and intimidation. An example he gave was the use of strobe lights on scab trucks, hired security agents or management trying to enter. According to the judge, "while picketing is presumptively legal and constitutionally protected, such picketing is impermissible where it breaches the criminal law or involves other unlawful conduct such as nuisance, trespass and/or intimidation." Again, needless to say, what is a nuisance, trespass and/or intimidation to one is none of the above to another.

The second reason the judge gave was that irreparable harm would be the result if the company was not permitted to enter the facility to take out its stockpiles and conduct other maintenance work in the facilities. This is a serious accusation because it is being given across the board every time workers or Indigenous Peoples across the country defend their rights against governments and companies that trample them in the mud and act with impunity. One would think that his rationale could better be used to provide an argument as to why the company should negotiate with the workers and settle their claims in an agreeable manner. Instead, the blame for causing irreparable harm is put on the workers whose only intention is to put pressure on the company to negotiate, not cause irreparable harm to anything. Why is the blame for irreparable harm not put on the company for refusing to negotiate? This deserves consideration.

According to the judge: "the high-pressure lines carrying brine to the evaporation plant from distant salt caverns and wells are no longer being inspected for leaks on a daily basis, and the currently uncontradicted evidence before me indicates that the potential for catastrophic environmental damage, and a related loss of the plaintiff's licence to continue such operations, (a licence necessary for the survival of the plaintiff's evaporation plant business), is very real. The irreparable harm threatened by inability to regularly and routinely inspect the relevant pipelines therefore engages not only the plaintiff's private interests, (including the risk of business loss, liability for damages in relation to any environmental catastrophe, and loss of reputation and goodwill), but also the public interest of those living in and around the affected areas who should not needlessly be exposed to the risk of such hazards."

This disingenuous presentation serves the interests of the company, presenting it as the victim -- which, to boot, is also concerned about the local environment. If the company knew that a strike would result in such problems, why then is it refusing to negotiate? Why is it issuing dictates about contracting out that threaten the viability of the union when it was clear this would result in a strike? This alone shows that the company knew or should have known what it was doing and is now using the environmental risk to try to get away with it. The workers could argue that the company should be held responsible for endangering public health for its action in allowing the environmental degradation to continue. Should the judge not also consider this when deciding such matters? If the company did not know this risk would be present, it does now and should be warned by the court to negotiate in good faith or be held responsible for endangering public health.

Later, the judge added yet another reason for which the workers will be held responsible: "imminent irreparable harm was threatened by the business interruption, and corresponding difficult-to-quantify monetary damages associated with longer term loss of market share, loss of business reputation and loss of customer goodwill, stemming from a prolonged inability to supply product from the plaintiff's evaporation plant if the plaintiff effectively is prevented from unloading the current contents of its storage silos, owing to picketers preventing requisite transport trucks from entering and leaving the property; i.e., thereby necessitating otherwise extensive and avoidable remedial efforts to recondition the silos and make them usable again once the product now contained therein cakes and spoils."

This reason merely reveals that the courts use their privileged position to spout self-serving nonsense and give it a legal stamp. The company knew all this would transpire once it provoked a strike, so to now cite it as reasons to permit the company to prolong the strike by removing its product, keeping the workers without pay and benefits, is self-serving to the extreme.

Where is the concern or even recognition for the irreparable harm to the workers and their community as a result of the loss of their livelihoods, benefits and health and safety standards as a result of contracting out?

In addressing whether the injunction would infringe on the rights of the workers the judge had the gall to say: "I found it difficult to see any meaningful inconvenience that would be experienced by those who would be restrained from further participation in unlawful nuisance, trespass and intimidation activity that has been occurring to date on the picket lines. In that regard, it should be emphasized that the injunctive relief being requested does not seek to prevent lawful and constitutionally protected rights of proper picketing. Again, picketers have legitimate and constitutionally protected rights to freedom of expression that must be allowed to continue in a reasonable manner during the course of this labour dispute. However, those rights can be protected and facilitated by the granting of injunctive relief that allows for reasonable periods of delayed entry and exit from the plaintiff's property while picketers attempt to communicate their views in a lawful and peaceful way, short of transgressing into unreasonable extended delay and/or complete obstruction of those trying to enter or leave the plaintiff's property, improper intimidation in that regard, and/or trespass."

So much diversionary talk about what is legal, constitutional and proper. Laws have been passed over the years to make sure the workers' strikes are totally ineffective in creating a power balance between a company and all its resources, on one side, and the workers' strength in numbers and organization, on the other. Under today's conditions, governments are using police powers to declare all matters that defend the rights of workers, Indigenous Peoples and others to be matters of national security and economic well-being, and the struggles of the workers are declared illegal. The situation thus calls on workers to find new ways to put the strength of their numbers and organization on the side of their just cause.

It is unfortunate that in Canada today the likes of court judges and government ministers have yet to understand that MIGHT DOES NOT MAKE RIGHT! Using the legislatures, courts and prerogative powers to pass laws and issue decrees that do not attain a result that harmonizes individual and collective claims on society and harmonizes these with the general interest of society may make them legal but it does not make them just and they are therefore repugnant.

In other words, the irreparable harm done to Canada's working people cannot be justified and the more those with power and privilege try to do so, the more vulnerable they become. Yes to negotiations! No to the court's and government's defence of impunity!

The judge says, "I found it difficult to see any meaningful inconvenience" when he talks about limiting the workers' strike actions to ineffective protest. For him, this is not even a meaningful inconvenience. For the workers, it is a matter of survival.

For the full reasons for the injunction, click here.


This article was published in
Number 14 - March 17, 2023

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