An Okanagan business has been ordered to reinstate nine employees after laying them off earlier this month following a union-organizing drive.
Last week, the B.C. Labour Relations Board released a 16-page decision involving Potanicals Green Growers Inc., a cannabis-growing operation in Peachland.
According to the decision, the company laid off nine of its 17 employees on Oct. 6, noting the layoffs happened after a union certification vote.
Among the released employees were the master grower and the head of security, two important positions connected to the company’s licensing conditions. The nine laid-off employees were paid until Oct. 19.
The report also detailed the company’s cash flow, with the company reporting that it had financial difficulties and that the layoffs were financially based and were a legitimate business decision.
However, the labour board rejected that point, noting “compared to its pre-COVID-19 current assets (i.e. in Feb. 2020), the employer had more cash in the bank in September 2020 and only $85,000 less in total current assets ($479,972 vs $394,333).”
The report also said the employer said the union application was without merit, and that the business was running out of cash to allow it to continue to operate at the same staffing levels.
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In the analysis and conclusions part of the report, it said the Labour Relations Code “prohibits an employer from interfering in the formation, selection or administration of a trade union. The union says that the layoffs were designed to achieve that objective.”
The vice-chair and registrar of the Labour Relations Board panel, J. Najeeb Hassan, said “I have concluded that the employer’s conduct of laying off nine employees at its Peachland operation was motivated, at least in part, by the fact that the employees at that location had sought to be represented by a union.”
Hassan also said the employer’s claim that it was stopping cultivation was inconsistent with the fact that sales were on a steep rise, and that it had just recently pitched its product to the Alberta Distribution Board.
The report also said “a clear message was sent to the remaining employees that engaging in union activities would not result in a positive employment situation for them.”
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It also said “I accept that the employer’s financial situation was not ideal and that it had not been profitable. However, the employer’s consistently but poor manageable financial situation begs the question: Why did it suddenly have to lay off the employees immediately following the certification vote?’
The board said the laid-off employees “are hereby reinstated to their employment and their layoffs rescinded.”
The company is a subsidiary of a public company known as Benchmark Botanics Inc., with the head office located in Richmond. Benchmark also owns a greenhouse facility in Pitt Meadows that grows cannabis.
To view the report in its entirety, click here.
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