Not cool man. Labour board finds weed grower intimidated workers during union drive

The corporate potheads at Sundial Growers turned out not to be so mellow as Teamsters Local 987 have won an unfair labour practices complaint against the Olds, Alberta based cannabis producer and processor.

The Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) ruled that managers at the plant violated the labour code by interfering with an off-site meeting being held by the union and “sought by intimidation or threat to compel employees to refrain from becoming union members.”

“It’s an obvious and very common form of union busting,” says Bob Barnetson, professor of labour relations at Athabasca University. “What other purpose could managers have by showing up at a union organizing meeting but to discourage workers from joining the union.”

The ALRB mediator ordered the company to cease and desist any further interference or intimidation and also ordered a mandatory one-hour paid meeting between union organizers and the workers of both shifts at the plant at the employer’s expense. 

A screenshot from, the corporate parent of Sundial Growers. 

The complaint centers around actions taken by two Sundial managers at an offsite information meeting held at the Olds Public Library by an organizer for Teamsters Local 987. At the meeting the organizer hoped to provide information materials, answer questions and had union cards available for people to sign. 

The organizer and several Sundial employees were sitting in a meeting room at the library with the door open chatting when the organizer spotted someone who the workers present identified as a manager and the union organizer shut the door. The organizer then told the nervous and worried workers to be calm and to give any other potential attendees a heads up and to avoid coming. He then went outside to see if the manager was still lurking. 

After a brief exchange in the parking lot between the union organizer and the Sundial manager the manager said, “I think it is kind of weird to close the door to a meeting when invited,” to which the union organizer said it was “kind of weird for a manager to show up to an employees-only meeting,” according to testimony from the union organizer.

The meeting was canceled and another meeting the following week was sparsely attended.  The union organizer testified he was told people were “too scared to go to a meeting.” At that point the drive stalled and an unfair labour practices complaint was filed. 

Sundial tried to get the case thrown out by arguing that the two managers weren’t really managers, the mediator dismissed that argument. The employer also made the argument that the managers were just curious about the union drive and were there in their own personal capacity and not on behalf of Sundial. The ALRB did not find that credible. 

“Their actions are far more consistent with those of persons attempting to gather information about supporters of the Union than those of employees wishing to obtain information about the Union,” reads the decision. “The action of casing the outside door of the library from two vantage points prior to entering, rather than simply entering, is not consistent with a person with the innocent intention of attending a meeting. Nor is it credible that the response of an employee innocently wishing to seek out information about the Union, and having been excluded, would be to immediately call a senior manager of the Employer. To find otherwise would be to ascribe a level of naivety to these managers that simply isn’t credible.”

The remedy from the ALRB of a mandatory, paid one-hour meeting between workers and the union organizers at the plant also received criticism from Barnetson. “It’s a pretty weak sauce remedy, what less could they have done, aside from nothing?”

“The research says that employers interfere in workers' decisions in whether or not they want to join a union all the time. The traditional remedy for that is remedial certification. Alberta has generally not had that, though the NDP brought in it for a bit.” 

Remedial certification is the practice of having the ALRB certify a union when the employer violates the labour code in an egregious way. This automatic certification is done instead of going through the usual process of signing union cards and having a vote. Remedial certification was de facto removed by the United Conservative Party when they updated the labour code after taking office in 2019. 

“If there is no meaningful consequence for the employer to interfere in a union drive the evidence says they’re going to do it. De facto removing remedial certification, which the UCP did, makes it open season for employers to stop union drives by any means necessary,” Barnetson. 

Preston Quintin, Member Engagement and Recruitment Co-ordinator at Teamsters 987 said in a media release, "We will always fight for workers across Alberta, and in this instance, employees were facing intimidation to refrain from learning about our union." He continues, "We are pleased with the outcome and we want all workers to know that we stand with them."

Sundial Growers is part of SNDL, the largest private-sector liquor and cannabis retailer in Canada with retail banners that include Ace Liquor, Wine and Beyond, Liquor Depot, Value Buds, and Spiritleaf. SNDL is a licensed cannabis producer and one of the largest vertically integrated cannabis companies in Canada and has a cannabis brand portfolio that includes Sundial Growers, Top Leaf, Contraband, Citizen Stash, Palmetto, Bon Jak, Spiritleaf Selects, Versus Cannabis, Value Buds, Vacay and Grasslands.