Immigrant women lead fight for union at Canada Goose clothing

Alelie Sanvictores union activist at Canada Goose in Winnipeg

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE A SWEAT SHOP? Defecating in buckets? Padlocked exits? Random speed ups? Verbal tirades? Racial insults? Arbitrary fines and firings. Inadequate PPE? Poverty wages? Canada Goose clothing factories in Winnipeg have all that. But no union. Not yet.

Alelie Sanvictores wants to change that. Alelie is one of a determined band of workers fighting to form a union at one of those Winnipeg Canada Goose factories. Canada Goose just fired her for it.

Canada Goose sells high-priced ($1,600 for a parka) and high-fashion cold weather parkas, coats and gear. It is the darling of celebrities and jet setters like Daniel Craig, the actor who plays James Bond.

'Why do they treat us like animals?'

Canada Goose was a pariah for a time. It was the target of activists concerned about how the company harvested the goose down and fur it uses. It somehow managed to rehabilitate itself. Now it is cited as a model of ethical business practices—like giving work to the 1200 workers at its Winnipeg plants who are mostly immigrant women from South Asia and the Philippines.
“If they are pro-immigrants, why do they treat us like animals?” says Alelie, in a video message on the Canada Goose Workers United Twitter account.

“If Canada Goose is the model of anything,” adds another worker, “they are the model of a sweatshop.”

Just as bad as Qatar

Conditions in Manitoba are just as bad as they were when she worked in Qatar and Dubai, says another worker. “You can feel sometimes there is no future at all for you,” she says. “A big horn blows and we have to get back and rush as you lose money from (your) paycheque for any lateness.”

“We came here for a better life,” says another worker. “Before I came to Canada I was in Qatar and then Dubai and it’s the same here in Canada Goose: No humanity.”

Several workers also reported being targeted for abuse by management. One Filipino worker explained how a white manager yelled at her for talking to a colleague, while another told of how another supervisor berated her for not working faster when her machine was broken.

Another worker said that managers would often stand behind older workers and shout at them like teenagers, yelling, “Faster, faster, faster.”

Unfit workplace

Paid just $11.90 per hour, the workers are driven to work at high speed by piecework pay incentives with limited or no breaks.

In August 2020, the company closed the already inadequate number of toilets in one of its factories for repairs. The entire workforce was forced to use ten portable toilets set up outside that were hardly ever cleaned. Workers said the state of the toilets got so bad that they chose to leave the premises to go to the bathroom, or ask relatives or friends to bring portable containers to the worksite for them to defecate in.

The coronavirus only worsened these conditions. Canada Goose landed lucrative contracts last march to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospitals at its Toronto and Winnipeg factories. But the workers producing these life-saving items were not given adequate PPE themselves until they protested. Canada Goose provided just one hand sanitizer in one of its Winnipeg factories for three floors of sewers.

Fighting for fairness

A union drive in 2019 failed due to an employer challenge granted by the Labour Relations Board. Workers United does represent 1200 workers at Canada Goose plants in Toronto. Workers United continues to organize in Winnipeg and has just launched a public campaign for union recognition.

The union is focusing on putting pressure on Bain Capital. The U.S. private equity firm that was founded by Mitt Romney, a one time Republican nominee for president of the USA. Bain bought control of Canada Goose in 2013.

The new Workers United Shame on Bain campaign asks: “Is Bain’s Canada Goose becoming a sweatshop on Canadian soil?”

The union drive features Twitter, Facebook and Instagram sites and an online petition campaign targeting Bain Captital and Stephen Pagliuca its co-chairman and co-owner of the pro basketball team the Boston Celtics.

Sign the petition here:

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