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CAUT Bulletin Archives

March 2002

Supreme Court Legalizes Secondary Picketing

In late January the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that secondary picketing is legal. Having concluded "there is no principled ground on which to ban secondary picketing" striking workers now have the right to set up picket lines at locations other than the premises of their employer.

The 9-0 ruling emphasized that all picketing involves freedom of expression, a fundamental value enshrined in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"We find no persuasive reason to deprive unions members of an expressive right at common law that is available to all members of the public," stated the court. "Labour speech ... is fundamental not only to the identity and self-worth of individual workers and the strength of their collective effort, but also to the functioning of a democratic society."

The case stemmed from a bitter labour dispute in 1997 between Saskatchewan-based Pepsi-Cola Canada Ltd. and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), Local 558. As the strike entered its second week, the conflict escalated and union members moved to picket locations other than Pepsi-Cola's premises, mostly retail outlets stocking Pepsi products.

The union appealed and lost an injunction issued May 23, 1997 prohibiting it from "congregating or picketing at any location other than (Pepsi-Cola's) premises."

The Supreme Court decision, overturning 40 years of common law practice, was met with enthusiasm by labour activists across the country.

Maureen Shaw, president of the National Union of CAUT, predicts the ruling could have a significant effect on university or college labour disputes.

"Certainly this ruling could give faculty unions another weapon when forced to strike," said Shaw. "Any business with significant economic ties to a university or college could be subject to secondary picketing."

Shaw cites the example of an adjacent university construction site. "Faculty might block access to the site or stop deliveries from getting through. Unionized construction workers would be unlikely to cross the picket line. In the end, it's just one more way of applying pressure to meet faculty demands."

The 25-page Supreme Court ruling R.W.D.S.U. Local 558 v. Pepsi-Cola Canada Beverages (West) Ltd. is available at