Employer granted injunction to stop Unifor from blocking entrance to Del Monte facility in Oshawa, Ont.

Concept image showing picketers blocking a truck from entering a facility. Photo: Shot By Dave/Getty/Canva

A company that provides workers, supervisors, and other personnel to Del Monte’s fresh produce picking and packaging facility in Oshawa, Ont., has been granted an injunction against Unifor in an ongoing labour dispute.

Premier Implementation Solutions Canada sought the injunction to stop Unifor Local 222 from blocking access to the Del Monte facility. Unifor represents Premier’s employees at the location, with the exception of managers, those who rank above managers, and recruitment and co-ordination staff.

There are three vehicular entrances to the facility. The north entrance connects to a loading dock and is used for shipping, the south entrance is connected to a different loading dock and is used for deliveries, and the middle entrance is connected to the parking lot and is used by employees to enter and exit the building.

The only way to access the loading docks is through the north and south entrances — the employee entrance does not permit access.  Thus, without access to the loading docks, Del Monte is unable to receive or ship goods.

Premier sought the court’s intervention amid stalled collective bargaining negotiations and a strike initiated by Unifor on Jan. 13, 2024. The legal action responded to Unifor’s alleged obstruction of Del Monte’s premises, hindering crucial business operations.

The court order, aimed at preventing further disruptions, specifically prohibits Unifor and its agents from blocking access to the premises, interfering with Del Monte’s employees and operations, and engaging in intimidating or harassing behaviors.

Moreover, the court has authorized the Sheriff of the Regional Municipality of Durham, with the assistance of the Durham Regional Police Service, to enforce this order.

The dispute centers on the blockage of entrances to Del Monte’s facility, which has reportedly led to significant logistical challenges and potential spoilage of fresh produce. The court heard evidence from Damone Shumard, a senior vice-president at Premier, who described the blockade’s impact, including the obstruction of delivery and shipping entrances by vehicles and protestors.

“Two cars partially blocked access to the employee entrance, and Mr. Shumard was forced to drive over a curb to enter the employee parking lot,” the Court said. “Once in the parking lot he saw a group of about ten protestors who had set up a tent and a number of burn buckets on the Premises. From the front of the building he saw a U-Haul truck parked such that it completely blocked the south delivery entrance.  Mr. Shumard’s affidavit contained photographs depicting the blockage.”

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision follows Premier’s urgent motion for an interim injunction, with the company citing concerns over potential irreparable damage and losses. Premier’s failure to name individuals engaged in alleged tortious actions was noted, but the court found sufficient grounds to grant the injunction based on the union’s collective actions.

Unifor’s legal counsel argued against the injunction, citing traditional common law immunity for trade unions from lawsuits and questioning Premier’s standing in seeking an injunction. However, the court referenced precedents indicating that trade unions can indeed be sued and that Premier, as a directly impacted party, had the standing to bring the motion.

The ruling underscores the balance between respecting the right to strike and ensuring the lawfulness of picketing activities. While acknowledging the right to strike, the court emphasized that picketing must not involve unlawful activities like obstruction or intimidation.

The court granted Premier’s motion, stressing the urgency of the situation and the potential for significant losses. The injunction will remain in effect for four days, allowing for a return of the motion under another judge’s purview.

Premier is also entitled to costs, with the parties encouraged to agree on an appropriate award. Failing an agreement, a costs hearing is anticipated, with both parties expected to submit written submissions.

For more information, see Premier Implementation Solutions Canada Inc. v. Unifor, Local 222, 2024 ONSC 445 (CanLII).