Canada Goose, the luxury jacket manufacturer, has cultivated a reputation for creating jackets that are not only fashionable but also environmentally conscious. It has formed alliances with environmentalists and has stated that it is committed to high labour standards in the workplace.
Because of these efforts, the company has grown beyond its roots as a family business and has developed a global following for its parkas, which can cost more than $1,000 and have been worn by celebrities such as Daniel Craig and Kate Upton. According to the company in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in March, “we believe that the brand image we have developed has significantly contributed to the success of our business.”
However, production employees at Canada Goose, who were all unionised as of 2010, have complained that the company has taken an increasingly hard line against labour, which they believe is at odds with the company’s stated values.
When a company official was cited by the provincial labour board for unfair labour practises in the course of organising an employee union at a newer facility in 2019, some employees asserted that their employer had retaliated against them in recent months because they had supported the union.
Workers like Alelie Sanvictores, who has been involved in union organising for several years, expressed fear. “Some people are apprehensive about approaching me.”
Canada Goose vigorously denies that it is anti-union or that it has retaliated against union members and activists. In a statement, the company stated that “it is the employees who will decide their path forward,” and that “Canada Goose will support their decision.” The company fired the official who had been accused of engaging in unfair labour practises.
Three Canada Goose manufacturing plants in Winnipeg were picketed by a few dozen labour activists on Wednesday outside the Boston headquarters of Bain Capital, the private equity firm that owns and controls the jacket maker. The activists hoped to pressure Canada Goose into supporting a union at the three plants.
The tensions at Canada Goose appear to illustrate the difficulties associated with pursuing rapid growth while maintaining a high-minded reputation that is essential to the survival of a luxury business, according to observers.
In 1957, an immigrant by the name of Sam Tick founded Canada Goose, which was then known as Metro Sportswear Ltd. The company’s lone factory, located in Toronto, was unionised in the mid-1980s.
Dani Reiss, Mr. Tick’s grandson, became the company’s chief executive in 2001, with the goal of expanding the company’s global sales from what had previously been primarily a North American operation. Despite this, he remains committed to manufacturing its parkas in Canada, despite the fact that much of the country’s apparel industry is moving offshore.
According to the company’s 2020 sustainability report, “by keeping the majority of our production in the United States, we contribute to local job growth and are more easily able to maintain our high manufacturing and labour standards.”
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Mr. Reiss, on the other hand, has demonstrated a greater scepticism toward labour unions than his predecessors at Canada Goose. In 2011, the union sought voluntary recognition or a neutrality agreement with the company after the company purchased a manufacturing facility in Winnipeg, which would allow workers there to unionise more easily.
“Dani Reiss stated that he was not interested in doing so,” said Barry Fowlie, who has served as the president of the Canada Council of Workers United, the union that represents employees at the company, for nearly a decade now.
During an interview, a company spokeswoman stated that the union had never requested voluntary recognition “in any official context.”
Investing giant Bain Capital acquired a majority stake in Canada Goose in 2013, and the company went public on the New York and Toronto stock exchanges the following year.
Due to the expansion of the original Toronto plant and the addition of two additional facilities during Bain’s ownership, the number of unionised employees reached more than 1,000 just before the pandemic hit just before the pandemic. A collective bargaining agreement that was in place prior to the establishment of the new facilities binds all production workers in Toronto to the union.
Facility coverage does not extend to Winnipeg, where the company’s three factories employed more than 1,000 production workers prior to the pandemic began to spread. According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company’s union membership among production workers has decreased to approximately one-third as a result of the expansion of the work force.
A large number of workers at the Winnipeg plants claim they are earning the province’s minimum wage, which is approximately 12 Canadian dollars per hour (roughly $9.65), though they can earn more if they meet or exceed certain production targets. According to the company, nearly 70% of employees were earning more than the minimum wage per hour.
Five employees stated in interviews that their managers were frequently abusive toward the primarily immigrant workforce they worked with.
One employee, Immanuelle Concepcion, claimed that her supervisor erupted in a rage over mistakes in some jackets that appeared to have been completed by the employee. ‘How could you have allowed this to happen?’ she exclaimed. ‘How dare you?’” says the author. Ms. Concepcion was summoned. “I was trembling with fear. That is not the first time I have been humiliated in this manner.”
It was stated by a spokesperson for Canada Goose that the company had not received any reports of “regular abuse” and that all reports of harassment were thoroughly investigated.
Following their identification as union supporters at one of the company’s manufacturing facilities in Winnipeg in June, two employees were disciplined by the company. One employee claimed that he had worn headphones while working on a regular basis, but that he had only been warned and then written up for it — on two consecutive days — after showing up to work wearing a union T-shirt.
Trevor Sinclair, a worker at the time, claimed that his supervisor had said nothing about the incident until then.
Canada Goose stated that “no employees are subjected to disciplinary action as a result of their participation in a labour union” and that disciplinary action had been taken against Mr. Sinclair once management was made aware of his violation of company policy.
Nearly 30% of Canadian workers belong to a labour union, compared to approximately 11% of American workers in the same position. Mr. Sinclair stated that he believed Canada Goose was essentially importing an American model of union-busting into the country.
According to him, “the way they treat us is not the way Canadians treat each other.” “Management doesn’t seem to grasp the essence of what Canada is about.”