Canada Goose’s Picture Is Challenged by Union Effort

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The luxury jacket manufacturer Canada Goose has not only cultivated a chic, but also socially conscious image. She has forged alliances with environmentalists and spoke of her commitment to high labor standards.

Those efforts have paid off as the company has outgrown its roots as a family business and built a worldwide following for its parkas, which cost over $ 1,000 and have been worn by celebrities like Daniel Craig and Kate Upton. “We believe the brand image we have developed has been instrumental in the success of our company,” the company wrote in March in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

But Canada Goose manufacturing workers, all of whom have been unionized since 2010, have complained that the company is adopting an increasingly harsh attitude towards workers that contradicts its established values.

In 2019, a company official was cited by a provincial labor committee for unfair labor practices during a union election at a newer facility, and some employees complained that the company had retaliated against them in recent months for supporting a union.

“People are scared,” said Alelie Sanvictores, an organizing worker. “Some people are afraid to talk to me.”

Canada Goose denies being anti-union and retaliating against union supporters. “It is the employees who determine their future path, and Canada Goose will support their decision,” the company said in a statement. The company dismissed the charged officer for unfair labor practices.

On Wednesday, about two dozen labor activists demonstrated at the Boston headquarters of Bain Capital, the private equity firm that owns and controls Canada Goose, in hopes of pressuring the jacket maker to support a union at three Winnipeg plants.

The tension at Canada Goose seems to illustrate the challenges of pursuing rapid growth while maintaining a high-minded reputation that helps maintain a luxury business.

An immigrant named Sam Tick founded Canada Goose in 1957, then known as Metro Sportswear Ltd. The only factory in Toronto was unionized in the mid-1980s.

After Mr. Tick’s grandson Dani Reiss took over the management in 2001, he tried to increase the worldwide sales of the previously largely North American company. Still, he was committed to making his parkas in Canada, even though much of the country’s apparel industry was relocated overseas.

“By keeping the majority of our production domestically, we contribute to local employment growth and can more easily maintain our high manufacturing and labor standards,” the company wrote in its 2020 sustainability report.

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July 1, 2021, 2:00 p.m. ET

But Mr Reiss appeared to be more skeptical of unions than his predecessors at Canada Goose. After the company bought a manufacturing facility in Winnipeg in 2011, the union sought voluntary recognition or a neutrality agreement that would allow workers there to organize easily.

“Dani Reiss said he wasn’t interested,” said Barry Fowlie, who has headed the Canada Council of Workers United, the union that represents workers at the company, for about a decade.

A company spokeswoman said the union had asked for voluntary recognition “in no official context”.

Bain Capital acquired a majority stake in Canada Goose in 2013 and was listed on the New York and Toronto stock exchanges in 2017.

Under Bain’s ownership, union workers rose to over 1,000 just before the pandemic, thanks to growth at the original Toronto facility and the addition of two more facilities there. A collective agreement that preceded the new locations makes all production workers in Toronto part of the union.

But facilities in Winnipeg, where the company’s three factories had over 1,000 production workers prior to the pandemic, are not covered. The growth in the workforce there has helped reduce the company’s union membership among production workers to about a third today, a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission found.

Workers at the Winnipeg plants say many of them earn the provincial minimum wage of around Canadian $ 12 an hour (around $ 9.65), although workers can earn more if they exceed certain production targets. The company said nearly 70 percent of workers earned more than the minimum wage.

In interviews, five workers complained that managers were often abusive towards the predominantly immigrant workforce.

One worker, Immanuelle Concepcion, said her supervisor was enraged by flaws in some jackets that she appeared to have been working on. “She said to me, ‘How dare you let that happen? How dare you? ‘”Recalled Ms. Concepcion. “I was shaking. I did not experience any humiliation like this.”

The Canada Goose spokeswoman said the company had received no reports of “frequent abuse” and that all reports of harassment were investigated.

In June, the company disciplined two workers at one of its Winnipeg plants shortly after they identified themselves as union supporters. One said he routinely wore headphones while at work but received a warning and then – for two consecutive days – he was not contacted until he came to work wearing a union t-shirt.

Until then, said worker Trevor Sinclair, “my supervisor never said anything about it.”

Canada Goose said that “no employee will face disciplinary action because of the union organization” and that disciplinary action was taken against Mr. Sinclair when management became aware of his violation.

Almost 30 percent of Canadian workers are union members, compared with about 11 percent of American workers. Mr Sinclair said he felt Canada Goose was essentially importing an American model of fighting unions.

“The way they treat us is not the way the Canadians treat each other,” he said. “Management doesn’t really understand what Canada is about.”

Philip Keith contributed to the coverage.