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Employees call Scarborough Chapters closure union busting, Indigo says it’s a business decision

Employees of a Chapters bookstore in Scarborough are accusing Indigo of union busting after the company told employees it’d be closing the store in January, which was one of three unionized locations in Toronto. 

Victoria Popov, a part-time employee and union steward at the store, says about 30-40 people will lose their jobs due to the closure on Jan. 27. The store has been open at Kennedy Commons mall for 24 years. In a statement, Indigo told CBC Toronto the store was closed after a standard business review that factored in profitability and says the company is working to support employees.

But Popov says staff feel unsupported by the Canada-wide chain. She says employees have been transferred to other locations after previous store closures, but a transfer was denied for everyone at the Scarborough store.

“We think we’re being made an example of for being unionized and for demanding better wages,” she said. “I think they want to show other stores: ‘This is what will happen to you if you dare step out of line.'”

A woman stands in a brown overcoat with a pink and white headscarf.
Victoria Popov, a part-time employee and union steward at the store, says about 30-40 people will lose their jobs due to the closure on Jan. 27. (Jason Trout/CBC)

Indigo’s operations have been in the headlines over the past year, last fall there was a shakeup in the executive ranks that saw president Peter Ruis promoted to CEO, while founder Heather Reisman was bumped up to executive chair. Then the company was hit by a cyberattack in February and Reisman retired completely in the aftermath. In September, Ruis resigned after less than a year as CEO and Reisman returned as chief executive.

Prior to the cyberattack, the store said it was on track for a profitable 2022-2023 — but it ended up losing $50 million on the fiscal year as a result.

Evidence needed to prove union busting: lawyer

Michael Lynk, professor emeritus of law at the University of Western Ontario, says he’d need to see more evidence to definitively call the store’s closure an act of union busting. He says employers can close a unionized store if it is a pure economic decision.

He says the union could file a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board to accuse Indigo of committing an unfair labour practice. 

“When a union accuses an employer of committing an unfair labour practice, the onus actually reverses, the onus is on the employer to prove that they did not commit an unfair labour practice,” he said. 

When it comes to the issue of employees being relocated to new positions in other stores, Lynk says relocation rights would be enshrined either in the collective agreement between the union and Indigo or through the existence of a past practice that Indigo has undertaken. 

If relocation has been a past practice, Indigo would need to explain why they’re not doing it in this case, Lynk says.

Timing making things worse for employees

When the employees learned of the closure, Popov says some were in tears. 

“We have basically been given a sentence of poverty going into the new year,” she says.

After nearly a quarter-century at the location, Popov says the Chapters has become a community institution. She remembers being eight years old lining up at the store to buy a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. 

Joyce Manonsong, another employee at the store, says the community support for the store’s employees has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

Still, she says hearing about the closure at this time of year has taken a toll. 

“This is a season where people spend time with loved ones and it’s usually just filled with a lot of joy and warmth,” she says. “But the news was really devastating.”

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