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Union ready for fight too-restrictive workplace rules on cannabis

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As workplaces across Canada scramble to create rules to deal with legalized cannabis, labour experts are predicting there will be plenty of push back, including legal challenges.

Canada will become the second country to legalize recreation cannabis on Wednesday, prompting public- and private sector companies to modify existing substance-use policies or draft new ones.

In response, the country’s largest private-sector union, which represents thousands of workers in Southwestern Ontario,  already has  filed several grievances and is gearing up to take employers to court.

“We’re seeing zero-tolerance policies, but it’s not just zero-tolerance for impairment, it’s zero-tolerance for use,” said Niki Lundquist, a lawyer for Unifor, a union representing 315,00 workers.

“It’s as though an employer suddenly thinks it has the right to police off-duty conduct.”

A leading labour lawyer says the rules governing what employees can do during work hours are straight forward, but the issue gets trickier when it comes to mandating what workers do in their own time.

“It’s going to be really difficult to regulate what you do off duty.” said Mario Torres, an Ottawa-based labour-employment lawyer.

Rather than craft new policies to deal with cannabis, most employers are relying on established legal principals already in place that can apply to cannabis. Just how strict the marijuana-use rules are will depend on nature of the work, Torres said, noting riskier jobs will come with tightened rules.

“The culture of the workplace should determine whether you’ll have an issue as to the time period before your employee arrives to work before consuming cannabis,” he said.

Southwestern Ontario is home to employers like the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in Kincardine and energy companies in Sarnia’s chemical valley which are likely to clamp down on employee pot use outside of work hours.

Though most companies are keeping their pot policies under wraps, police forces, airlines and the army have revealed their new rules.

Calgary police have banned officers from using cannabis entirely, while Toronto police say cops can’t use the drug within 28 days of duty, a decision the Toronto Police Association called “ill-contrived.”

Air Canada, meanwhile, is banning all employees in flight operations and aircraft maintenance from using marijuana at all times.

Some employers are adding clauses that give them the right to administer mandatory drug and alcohol testing, Lundquist said.

“Absent some link to damage to the employer’s operation or reputation, they don’t have that right,” she said, adding Unifor is preparing to take employers to court.

“Employers have fought really hard to subject workers to alcohol and drug testing, and workers have fought back because of the intrusion on . . . privacy rights.”

Unifor isn’t against drug testing, but says the presence of cannabis doesn’t necessarily imply a person is impaired,

“It’s why there’s been such a fight against random testing. The whole rational is to keep people out of the workplace in an impaired state, but there’s nothing in a random drug testing that confirms impairment,” she said.

Torres highlighted another thorny issue when it comes to workplace substance-use policies: medicinal marijuana.

Workers discriminated against for their use of medicinal marijuana will launch human-rights challenges, he said.

There were 296,000 prescription pot users registered with Health Canada as of May, up from 174,000 less than one year earlier, according to government statistics.

Another challenge that will arise is dealing with employees with cannabis dependencies, which is a protected right under the human rights code, he said.

“The employer has the obligation, the duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship. And it’s the same thing with alcohol,” he said.

dcarruthers@postmedia.com

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Canada Post issues new offer to employees as eBay pressures Ottawa to end strikes

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Striking Canada Post workers picket at the South Central sorting facility in Toronto on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.


THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

OTTAWA — Canada Post has issued what it calls a “time-limited” contract offer to its employees in hopes of ending rotating strikes that have created a historic backlog of undelivered parcels.

The offer Wednesday to members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers came just hours after online sales and auctioning giant eBay called on the federal government to legislate an end to the contract dispute.

The Crown corporation’s four-year offer includes annual two-per-cent wage hikes, plus signing bonuses of up to $1,000 per employee.

The proposal, which the agency said was worth roughly $650 million, also contains new job-security provisions, including for rural and suburban carriers who have complained about precarious employment, and a $10-million health-and-safety fund.

But Canada Post said the offer was only viable if it can be agreed to before the holiday shopping rush. It has imposed a deadline of Nov. 17 for Canadian Union of Postal Workers members to accept the deal.

“This measure is to ensure we can reach a just-in-time resolution and deliver for Canadians ahead of the holiday rush,” the Crown corporation said in an email.

“The time limit is necessary as this offer is only affordable if we can clear the backlogs caused by the union’s strike activity and effectively deliver the quickly arriving massive Black Friday and Cyber Monday volumes.”

The head of eBay Canada sent a letter to the prime minister late Tuesday, urging him to force an end to the labour dispute. Andrea Stairs, eBay’s general manager for Canada, also warned that quick action was needed to ensure retailers don’t lose out on the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

“I encourage the government to explore all available legislative solutions to alleviate the current situation,” Stairs wrote in the letter, which was also sent to Labour Minister Patty Hajdu and Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough.

Continued rotating strikes at Canada Post will result in significant losses for small and medium-sized businesses across the country, Stairs warned, noting that smaller firms are unable to negotiate lower shipping fees with other delivery services.

While many businesses have adapted as best they can since the strikes began on Oct. 22, Stairs said adjustments online sellers have made so far to avoid delivery disruptions are unsustainable.

“Black Friday and Cyber Monday are critical sales opportunities for Canadian small and micro retailers, particularly those that sell into the U.S. — the largest consumer market in the world,” she wrote.

“Should the Canada Post service disruptions continue through this key retail moment, these (smaller businesses) will be seriously disadvantaged in competing for U.S. demand.”

Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which are annual shopping days known for their deep discounts, fall this year on Nov. 23 and 26.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned last week that his government would look at “all options” to bring the Canada Post labour dispute to an end if there was no significant progress in contract talks. Trudeau did not elaborate on what actions could be taken, although the previous Conservative government passed legislation to end a two-week lockout of postal employees in 2011.

A spokeswoman for Hajdu said Wednesday the government recognizes Canadians and small businesses rely on the postal service, and encouraged corporate and union negotiators to keep talking.

“We urge both parties to reach a deal soon to reduce the impacts to Canadians, businesses, Canada Post and their workers,” Veronique Simard wrote in an email.

Canada Post said Wednesday it was facing an unprecedented backlog of shipments and warned the situation could escalate quickly.

Postal union members picketed in Toronto on Tuesday for the third time in the past two weeks. The latest job action in Toronto was over by Wednesday morning, but the shutdown added to the backlog of items already waiting to be sorted and shipped, said Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton.

“We have now surpassed 260 trailers of parcels and packets waiting to be unloaded,” Hamilton wrote in an email, referring to the Gateway parcel processing plant in Toronto.

“The union just took down their pickets but we are backed up beyond anything we’ve ever seen in our history. With Toronto out on strike, we also missed two days of customer pickups, which will likely push that trailer total over 300 today.”

The previous peak for backlogged trailers reached 220 during last year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping period, he said.

The union is negotiating contracts for 50,000 of its members in two divisions — urban carriers and rural and suburban workers. It said Tuesday that Canada Post had failed to address key issues, including health and safety, staffing levels and job security.

The two sides have been negotiating for almost a full year, with little success despite the assistance of government-appointed mediators.

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Canopy takes cautious approach to legal pot; posts loss, shares slide

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Section grower Corey Evans walks between flowering marijuana plants at the Canopy Growth Corp. facility in Smiths Falls, Ont., on Jan. 4, 2018.

Chris Wattie

Part of cannabis and investing

Canopy Growth Corp., Canada’s largest cannabis producer, saw its sales slide and its losses widen in the quarter that immediately preceded the launch of the legal recreational marijuana market.

Shares in the Smiths Falls, Ont.-based grower plunged more than 10 per cent Wednesday after the company revealed a $330-million net loss on revenue of $23-million in the quarter ended Sept. 30, an 11-per-cent drop in revenue from the previous quarter.

Co-chief executive Bruce Linton said the company took a deliberately cautious approach to the legalization of recreational cannabis on Oct. 17 – a tack that likely had a negative effect on sales. Just $700,000 of the company’s quarterly revenue came from deliveries to the recreational market – to stock shelves ahead of legalization. Canopy said it prioritized wholesale shipments to markets in Alberta and Quebec, which have bricks-and-mortar retail outlets, over online-only operations such as Ontario. He said Canopy stocked retailers with mostly flower to start, before expanding to soft-gel capsules and now prerolled joints, a category that proved to be among the most popular with consumers in the early days of legalization.

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The focus, Mr. Linton said, is on the long term.

“We want to be like a sustaining, winning race rather than a flash out of the gate,” he said on a call with analysts Wednesday.

Canopy is the third of the sector’s largest firms to report earnings this week, joining Aurora Cannabis Inc. and Tilray Inc. Together, the three companies – valued collectively at almost $30-billion – booked $66-million in total revenue and operating losses of $353-million.

Analysts had predicted that cannabis growers would sell more than they did in September to the recreational market, which launched two weeks after the reporting period ended. They expected Canopy to show revenue of as much as $91-million, according to a research note by Cowen Inc.

“It’s the first [time] in our history that I’m aware of where we actually had a slowdown,” Mr. Linton said, attributing the sales dip to lower medical sales in Canada and Germany. “But it was more of a distraction than a pattern.”

Canopy’s stock tumbled 10.9 per cent Wednesday in New York, falling to US$34.30 a share. Investors were dumping other pot stocks, too: Tilray fell 8.3 per cent, Aurora’s shares were down 8 per cent, and Aphria Inc. dropped 7.4 per cent

Despite supply issues plaguing the industry as a whole, Canopy is not low on product. As of Sept. 30, its inventory levels grew to 31,214 kilograms of cannabis flower, 21,499 litres of oil and 1,497 kilograms of soft-gel pills. That inventory and large production footprint may put Canopy “ahead of many other licensed producers (LPs) in its ramp and ability to supply adult-use channels,” analysts at BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. wrote Wednesday. “We believe there is significant uncertainty for the industry’s ramp schedules.”

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But accelerating for recreational sales and overseas expansion isn’t coming cheap. Canopy posted operating losses of $215-million for the quarter. It took a net write-off of $16-million related to culling plants because it didn’t have a processing licence at one of its facilities.

Canopy is aiming to capture a 30-per-cent share of Canada’s recreational market. “Now, it’s crank time,” Mr. Linton said. “And the provinces are starting to gain their momentum as well.”

Available now: Cannabis Professional, the authoritative e-mail newsletter tailored specifically for professionals in the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Subscribe now.

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Canada Post issues new offer to employees as eBay calls on feds to end strikes

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Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press</span>


Published Wednesday, November 14, 2018 4:43PM EST


Last Updated Wednesday, November 14, 2018 5:13PM EST

OTTAWA — Canada Post has issued what it calls a "time-limited" contract offer to its employees in hopes of ending rotating strikes that have created a historic backlog of undelivered parcels.

The offer came just hours after online sales and auctioning giant eBay called on the federal government to legislate an end to the Canada Post contract dispute.

The Crown corporation’s four-year offer, provided to The Canadian Press, includes annual two-per-cent wage hikes, plus signing bonuses of up to $1,000 per employee.

The $650-million proposal also includes new job-security provisions, including for rural and suburban carriers who have complained about precarious employment, and a $10-million health-and-safety fund.

But Canada Post says it’s only affordable if it can be agreed to before the holiday shopping rush, so it has imposed a deadline of Saturday, Nov. 17 for Canadian Union of Postal Workers members to accept the deal.

The prime minister warned last week that his government would look at "all options" to bring the labour dispute to an end if there was no significant progress in Canada Post’s contract talks with the union.

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