Richmond-based company violated labour code by laying off employees seeking to unionize: LRB

The BC Labour Relations Board (LRB) has ruled a cannabis producer with headquarters in Richmond violated the labour code by laying off several employees, who were seeking to unionize, from its facility in the Okanagan.

In a decision published Oct. 16, J. Najeeb Hassan, the LRB’s vice-chair, ruled that the layoffs be rescinded and the employees be reinstated to their positions.

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The case was brought forward by Local 1518 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, against Potanicals Green Growers Inc., which operates the Peachland facility.

Potanicals is a wholly-owned subsidiary of cannabis producer Benchmark Botanics, whose head office is near the Burkville area of Richmond.

Employees had voted to apply for union certification in September, and held a certification vote on Oct. 1 and 2.

On Oct. 5, the company laid off nine workers, including the master grower, head of security and two adult children of the employer’s CEO. Eight employees were kept on.

Benchmark posted an ad for 16 full-time general farm positions at the Peachland facility just a few days later. Benchmark’s executive assistant testified that the ad was posted in error.

The company said the layoffs were due to its “dire financial situation,” and that it was temporarily ceasing the cultivation part of its business. However, it said the employees would be recalled if it could find new investors or sell its existing inventory at a lower cost, in order to get a higher profit.

Financial records showed Potanicals suffered net losses in each month of 2020, and came closest to profitability in September when it had a net loss of $5,000.

Meanwhile, Benchmark – the parent company – incurred “millions of dollars of losses over its existence,” however, it still showed “a sizeable amount of cash on its books,” the decision reads.

The union argued that it made no sense for the company to lay off the master grower and head of security – positions required under the company’s Health Canada licence for cannabis cultivation, processing and sale.

“[The union] argues that the only logical explanation for the layoffs was because the employer believed that they were union supporters and to put an end to the union activities in its business.”

Hassan ultimately found that the company violated the BC Labour Code by laying off the nine employees at the Peachland facility, finding that it was “motivated, at least in part, by fact that the employees at that location had sought to be represented by a union.”

Furthermore, the layoffs sent “a clear message” to the remaining employees that engaging in union activities “would not result in a positive employment situation for them,” Hassan said in his decision.

“The employer’s consistently poor but apparently manageable financial situation begs the question, why did it suddenly have to layoff the employees immediately following the certification vote?” Hassan said.

“I have reached the conclusion that it could have continued to ‘limp along,’ from month to month without the layoffs, just as it had earlier in 2020.”

The LRB ruled that the laid off employees would be hired back, and a copy of the decision sent to all staff in the company.

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