The North Star


Union Busting in Scarborough

Chapters Indigo Workers Receive Termination Notice Just Before Christmas

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As many were scrambling to get their gifts together before the holidays, the staff of the sole Chapters Indigo store in Scarborough, Ontario were scrambling to figure out how they were going to survive after the holidays. On December 3, the more than 30 workers of the Chapters 929 Union, a part of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1006A, had been informed that their Chapters store was being closed after almost a quarter-century of operations in Scarborough.

The Chapters workers spent much of the holidays picketing outside their store, informing customers of what had happened and putting forward the demand that all workers receive a fair severance package. "We also don't have the option to transfer to other stores, which is what Indigo typically does when it comes to store closures. Now we have to re-apply for our own positions, with no guarantee that we'll be staffed, and we'll lose our seniority," said Indigo worker Joyce Manonsong in an interview with North Star.

When asked why the company wasn't performing transfers for the workers, another worker who wished to remain anonymous put it bluntly: "They don't want to transfer us because they're scared of other stores unionizing."

The Chapters parent company, Indigo Books & Music Inc., operates Canada's 4th largest e-commerce operation, but in terms of Canada's brick-and-mortar book retailers, Indigo runs a virtual monopoly. Indigo launched its first store in 1997, and it wasn't long before it eliminated its competition. In 2001, Indigo merged with Chapters after Indigo founder and current CEO Heather Reisman received as a birthday gift the acquisition of Chapters, the country's other major book retailer, from her husband, Canadian billionaire Gerry Schwartz.

Chapters had just been formed a few years earlier in 1995 after the merger of the two previous bookselling giants, SmithBooks and Coles. Today, Indigo operates 87 superstores under the Indigo and Chapters names across Canada, with another 84 of its smaller format stores, Coles and Indigospirit. Very few of these worksites are unionized—with the only two others in the Greater Toronto Area being the ones at Yorkdale and Square One malls.

Indigo has been reporting to mainstream news outlets that its decision to close the Scarborough store was mainly based on the store's profitability. However, the December 3, 2023 termination is only the latest move by the company in a tug-of-war that's being going on with the unionized workers for some time. Last year, the company stripped the employees of the Scarborough store of their health benefits, which the workers just recently won back after an arbitration case was concluded in their favour in October 2023. Then, only weeks later, was it announced that the store would be closing and that all of its workers would be terminated.

Controversy and scandal have been following Indigo around all throughout 2023. In June, a series of resignations from the company's board rocked the company after claims of "mistreatment" by former directors. Even more controversial has been the protest that the company's founder and CEO has faced regarding her funding of Israeli soldiers. In 2005, Reisman and her husband established the HESEG Foundation for Lone Soldiers, a registered charity in Canada that provides financial support and educational opportunities to foreigners serving in Israel's military. In November, eleven activists throughout Toronto had their homes stormed by police in pre-dawn raids and are now facing serious charges in relation to a protest against Reisman and Indigo some weeks prior.

The final day scheduled for operations at the Scarborough store is January 27, 2024. The Chapters workers in Scarborough have maintained their picket into January, with the hope that Indigo concedes to their demands for fair severance packages and employee transfers.

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