Holt Renfrew workers reject union

The Globe and Mail

Shoppers outside the Holt Renfrew flagship store on Bloor Street in Toronto (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Luxury retailer Holt Renfrew has managed to keep a union out of its stores but the battle has left each side accusing the other of unfair practices.

On Thursday, employees at Holt Renfrew’s store at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto rejected joining a union after a controversial vote that could have set a precedent for the chain, which is owned by the wealthy Galen Weston family.

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Now the United Food and Commercial Workers union is threatening to complain to the Ontario Labour Relations Board about alleged intimidation on the part of Holt’s, while the company says it is considering its own charge of unfair practices against the union.

Employees at the store voted 99-50 against the union, with one spoiled ballot and 12 that were “segregated” because management or the union questioned whether they should be among those eligible to vote or not, said Pearl Sawyer, president of Local 1000A of UFCW Canada. “We will continue to be available to help all Holt Renfrew workers who want to seek fairness in their workplaces through union representation.”

The Yorkdale store is one of the retailer’s best performers in a mall whose overall productivity is among the top in Canada, generating an average of about $1,300 of sales per square foot. The union said that, despite the company’s improved financial results, it keeps changing staff’s compensation package, with higher thresholds for sales employees’ commissions.

Holt’s said that employees at its Yorkdale store earn “well above” the department store average, with base salaries at the outlet “well above” minimum wage. Sales staff can earn additional commissions of between 2.5 and 10 per cent of their sales. About 18 per cent of sales employees at the store earned a 10 per cent commission in 2011, it said.

The employees’ fight comes as Holt’s faces stiffer competition, with the Bay pumping up its higher end lines and Nordstrom, a U.S.-based upscale department store chain, preparing to select its first store locations in Canada.

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