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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Labour arbitration makes Egg Films scramble

Company with $4 million in annual revenue threatens to leave province over additional labour costs.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 3, 2013 at 3:57 PM

"Why would anyone want to do business here?” asks Sarah Thomas. The co-owner of Egg Films is threatening to pack up and leave Nova Scotia after becoming the premiere recipient of Nova Scotia's first contract arbitration. That law, passed in 2011 by the NDP, allows the NS Labour Board to impose a contract on newly unionized workplaces if a collective bargaining agreement can't be reached.

It's a powerful equalizer when a small workforce is taking on a multinational company, but things get murkier when it comes to small and medium-sized businesses.

“It was imposed by people who know nothing of our business,” Thomas says. “Nor did they get a full understanding of how negotiations went down between us and the union."

A quick recap; Egg has 20 full-time, non-union staffers, but it's the contracted technicians the digital production company employs on commercial shoots that apply here. The film technicians union, IATSE Local 849, applied to the Labour Board on behalf of those freelancers in March of 2011. They argued Egg employed union workers, and that employment should thus fall within the union's collective bargaining jurisdiction.

Egg fought back on almost every point, telling the Labour Board (and later the courts) that its workers were independent contractors. The Labour Board sided with the union, the collective bargaining process began, was delayed for a maternity leave, began again, stalled, went to mediation and finally was brought into arbitration. Nevertheless, even with the new contract imposed, Egg won't back down. They're taking the matter before the Court of Appeal and have filed an unfair labour practice complaint.

"I've scratched my head now for two-and-a-half years as to why they're fighting it so hard," says IATSE 849 business agent Gary Vermeir. "The amount of money that they've spent on legal fees would have paid for the benefits that we were seeking for the next six, seven years."

Under the new changes, Egg will be paying above industry rates to their now-unionized workers. Part of those increased wages will go towards IATSE pension and medical plans, while also creating eligibility for federal worker's compensation and employment insurance programs.

Egg Films has said the unionization will raise wages by 20 to 30 percent, while adding $38,000 a year in overhead. Despite nearly $4 million in revenue last year, Thomas and Hachey say those extra costs could force them to leave the province. The couple made the threat last week at a Progressive Conservative campaign event. Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie is promising to scrap first contract arbitration if the Tories win.

Vermeir, for his part, thinks it's all a bluff. He believes Egg's prosperity is tied to his union's prosperity. “They're a good employer for our members. We want to build a working relationship and actually put our people to work,” he says. “We want to make Egg successful."

Sarah Thomas, isn't buying it. “That's a load of BS,” she says. “They know it and we know it and everybody should know it. They don't care if we succeed or not.”

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