The BC Labour Relations Board recently decided that attending at a place of business with placards, signs and large banners is not picketing if the message displayed on the signs and placards is aimed at consumers. Overwaitea Food Group and UFCW, Local 1518, BCLRB No. B322/2002, October 8, 2002.
For a number of years, Loman Warehousing provided warehousing services to Overwaitea. At the end of the contract, Overwaitea decided to contract with a different warehouse service provider. The Loman warehouse was to be closed at the end of September 2002, putting the Loman employees out of work. The union representing the Loman employees made an application to the Labour Relations Board for a declaration that Overwaitea was the real employer of the Loman employees. In addition, the Union commenced a leafleting campaign at Overwaitea’s grocery stores. Groups of 3-15 Union members attended at Overwaitea stores and handed out leaflets asking consumers not to shop at Overwaitea Stores.
As the leafleting campaign progressed, the union members were not only handing out leaflets, but a number of individuals began carrying signs, placards and banners. Some of the placards generally restated the message contained in the leaflets requesting people not to shop at Overwaitea’s stores. Other signs had the words “nON Strike”. In addition to the use of signs, the Union members conduct in handing out leaflets also became more aggressive. Union members began approaching customers in their cars in the parking lots and in one case stood in a group at the entrance of the store, arms length apart, so that the customers entering the store has to pass through them.
Overwaitea applied to the Board for an order that the union members were picketing and that they were not entitled to picket Overwaitea stores. The Board found that the placards and signs that read “ON STRIKE” were an instance of picketing, because they gave the impression that a strike was occurring. The Board found that, in general, the placards and signs asking customers not to shop at Overwaitea did not constitute picketing as they did not create the impression of a strike. However, the Board did hold that an individual wearing a placard and marching in a set pattern was picketing. The Board made no finding of fact regarding what message the marching individual had on his placard, however a review of the pictures taken of the individual clearly shows that the placard asked consumers not to shop at the store.
With regard to the banners union members had placed on vehicles asking customers not to shop at Overwaitea stores, the Board held this was not picketing. Finally, the Board held that the leafleters were not engaged in intimidating behaviour when they approached customers in their cars or stood close together at the entrance to the stores, and that, therefore, their behaviour did not amount to picketing.
This decision is being reconsidered by the Board, which has convened a panel and invited interveners to participate in the reconsideration proceedings.