Written by Jennifer Brown, CanadianLawyerMagazine.com December 21, 2015
In what is a Dickens’-like storyline, on Dec. 11, about 130 full-time and 40 part-time employees of CHCH TV were let go. Just two weeks before Christmas, Channel 11 LP announced it was declaring bankruptcy. It held the collective agreement with the newsroom employees and when bankruptcy occurs it triggers termination of contracts and the trustee takes over.
A subsidiary of parent company Channel Zero Inc., Channel 11 employed reporters and other staff who provided news content to the long-running TV station that serves Hamilton, Niagara, and Halton Region. All were unionized and included on-air personalities, camera operators, and others who were members of Unifor.
Almost as soon as the employees were let go, a private numbered company offered jobs to about 80 of the former news employees and the station resumed broadcasting. Many of those who were not asked back include long-time employees with many years of service — some close to retirement.
“The question is whether it’s a successor employer that has taken over the business,” says Danny Kastner, of Kastner Law. “They are required to respect all of the employment contracts of the former company — both the collective agreement as well as their statutory severance and termination obligations.”
On Dec. 15, the Toronto Star reported that an account manager for CHCH sent an e-mail to a prospective client indicating the restructuring would put an end to union representation at CHCH, freeing the station to bring on new talent. Kastner says that kind of “smoking gun” could serve to hurt the company further.
Kastner says under the governing labour legislation if even a tiny part of the reason for a termination or a company restructuring is anti-union animus that part will taint the entire decision and weigh into adjudicated deliberations as to whether there have been anti-union unfair labour pactices.
The union is also asking whether the company’s intention was to bust the union, but it is focused on the issue of whether the new entity is in fact a “successor employer.”