Business

They’re showing red this spring

Ian Brown May 7 1979
Business

They’re showing red this spring

Ian Brown May 7 1979

They’re showing red this spring

Business

For conspiring to stymie a union’s organizing activities, they can give you two years in a cell and a leadpipe fine—except that until six weeks ago a charge probably hadn’t been laid in at least 20 years. Suddenly, last March, the S.S. Kresge Co. was charged with conspiring to interfere with the formation of a union in Brampton, Ontario; then last week Dylex Ltd., the country’s largest specialty clothing chain, saw the red of a warrant too. Charged are Lewis Pearsall, Dylex’s director of marketing; Gunter Leverenz, its manager; and Daniel McGarry, former president of Centurion Investigation Ltd., a private-eye firm which recently had its licence suspended.

For Sam Fox, Canadian director of

the clothing division of a vengefu Amalgamated Clothing and Textih Workers Union, the news of the changes was not unexpected. For others th( changes, if substantiated, are evidence of an errant strain of latent violence bringing to memory the labor-management confrontations of the Depression When a chain as large as Dylex—more than 450 stores under the aegises of Tip Top, Harry Rosen, Fairweather, Family Fair, Braemar, Suzy Shier and Thrifty’s, sales of $330 million, profits ol $12.1 million—is accused of union busting, what’s left of the iceberg comes rapidly to mind. The charges in question arise from a bitter fight 2 Vz years ago to certify a union of 175 workers at the company’s central warehouse in Toronto. It ended unionlgss when the employees refused to strike for the newly certified bargaining unit. But much had gone before, including an unsuccessful certification vote later reversed when the Ontario labor relations board found management had exerted “undue influences” on the potential union members. Frustrated union officials started smouldering, convinced Dylex had permanently turned its employees against a union, perhaps—as the courts will examine—illegally.

Enter tireless Detective Craig Malcolm of the Peel Regional Police Department’s fraud squad. He was investigating an unrelated complaint, but his digging led him, inexorably, to Centurion Investigation Ltd. As the case expanded—the investigation continues to this day—the help of the Ontario Provincial Police and the Metropolitan Toronto Police was enlisted. The result is allegations that, during the fall of 1976, two employees of a Centurion subsidiary—Centaur Temporary Help Ltd., is charged as well—worked for half a day at Dylex and while there instigated a fight that led first to the dismissal of themselves and two employees active in the union’s organizing campaign and later to the charges of assault and conspiring to interfere in the union’s organizing campaign. Dan McGarry is certain the charges will be “bombed out the courtroom door.” Jimmy Kay, Dylex’s chairman, says the company conducted a thorough internal investigation 2Vz years ago. “We’re confident,” he says. “We’re going back,” replies Sam Fox. For years—particularly between the 1890s and the Depression years—it was unions charged with conspiracy, which most often found themselves at the wrong end of a wielded stick. Now, much to the distress of union officials and executives who know confrontation will help no one, a new history threatens.

Ian Brown