JOHN FEATHERSTONE HAD THE LAW ON HIS SIDE. He didn’t know that at first. But he knew he deserved better. And he knew he was going to fight for it.
John was 62 years old and suddenly out of work. Terminated after 38 years on the job. One of 74 workers cast aside without a second thought by CTS Corp. in Streetsville, Ontario on April 17, 2014.
He knew he deserved better. They all knew they deserved better. In the end they used the law to get them the respect they wanted and deserved.
In September 2017, the Ontario Superior court ruled in favour of a class action launched by John and his co-workers at CTS. The court ordered the giant multinational to pay the workers for violating their legal rights.
The court ruled that CTS was obligated at the start of the plant closure process to notify the Ministry of Labour of the closure, triggering potential outplacement benefits for employees. The court found that CTS failed to do that. It had broken the law.
As a penalty, the court ruled CTS would have to compensate the terminated workers. The 74 workers are each seeking roughly $50,000 to $100,000 per year in compensation over a period of about two years.
Adding insult to injury
The mass terminations were a real economic injury. But it was the insulting way the company treated the workers once they knew their jobs were gone that triggered their determination to fight back.
CTS offered the workers severance packages that did not reflect the reality of their work history. Benefits were set to stop immediately, even though the workers were expected to work until the day set for the plant closure, more than a year away.
Worst of all, CTS tried to blackmail workers into staying. The company threatened not to pay any severance to those who left before the final day. Also illegal.
The workers took this as a real slap in the face: the company was shipping their jobs to Mexico, yet they expected the workers to help them make it easy.
John explains: “Because they were moving the assembly line from Canada to Mexico, there were going to be six to nine months where they wouldn’t be able to produce anything. We were expected to build a stockpile of parts. So what they basically said was ‘We’re not going to let you leave until we’ve got our production and if you do leave, then we won’t give you your severance.’”
“We got treated very unfairly. They didn’t think of us as people. They just treated us like numbers.
According to Featherstone, employees were so upset that ninety per cent of them refused to accept what the company offered and sign the release, because it would have meant giving up their right to fight, and they had every intention of fighting.
Their search for justice led them to Stephen Moreau, a Toronto employment lawyer, as well as the discovery that their personal sense of outrage was backed up in law and that they had the basis for a class action lawsuit.
Happy to find the law on their side
The law in Ontario requires employers to do two things when they plan to shut down operations:
 the employer must give formal notice to the workers that they will be terminated on a certain date
 the employer must also give immediate notice to the Ministry of Labour in the province of their plans to terminate employment
The requirement to immediately notify the ministry is crucial. It is what triggers the offer of “adjustment services” to help those left without work re-make their lives.
CTS broke the law when they let more than a year go by before they notified the Department of Labour about the mass termination set for June 2105. The workers were deprived of a whole year of help in adjusting to, and making arrangements for life after their termination.
The 74 CTS workers were surprised to learn any of this. They were even more surprised when Moreau explained that not knowing could not be held against them.
Supreme court sides with workers
Moreau states: “Employees are deemed legally not to know their rights. This is actually a finding of fact that has been made by the Supreme Court of Canada that you have to assume that an employee does not know what their legal rights and benefits, duties, and obligations are. They just don’t.
“That’s why you have the Ministry of Labour come in and help them. The CTS workers are highly skilled and motivated workers—but they’re trained in fields like engineering, product ordering, packaging. That’s what they’re trained in. They’re not trained in employment law. The employers are expected to know these things.”
CTS played hardball all the way. They rejected all the workers efforts to avoid going to court. “CTS were never willing to come to the table and bargain ever at all,” says John. “Not from day one when we started the lawsuit, they never came and actually offered us anything. They just didn’t want to know.”
15 minutes to do the right thing
John says the workers realized the tide was turning in their favour when the judge told the lawyers for CTS, “You didn’t post the form when you were supposed to do it, and that made a big difference to all the people who worked there. You denied all these people [the supports they were entitled to] by not doing it. There was no reason why you couldn’t have done it. It’s like a fifteen minute job to fill this form out and you couldn’t be bothered to do that.”
John Featherstone and his 73 co-workers hope their victory will give them a fair severance package and the opportunity to take advantage of the supports due them to cope with such a life-changing event.
“I’m glad we went to court to fight them” says John. “And I’m glad I didn’t accept what they offered me. If I had to do it again, win or lose, I still wouldn’t accept their offer because I don’t think it was right. At the end of the day, I still have my dignity and I’m glad I did what I did.”
CTS has appealed the court ruling.
This article was originally published by The Canadian Labour Institute.
Reprinted with permission for CALM Members use.