Over 114 Years of the Brewery, General, and Professional Workers' Union

SEIU Local 2.on Brewery, General, and Professional Workers’ Union represents more than 13,000 workers. Our members are brewery workers, municipal, school board, and university employees, union staff representatives, janitors, property service workers, woodworkers, candy makers, security guards, bartenders, restaurant servers, stationary engineers, hotel workers, industrial workers, racetrack and gaming workers - to name just a few. They are blue collar, white collar, male, female and they work indoors, outdoors, in small offices and large plants.

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The Union began its history as Local 304 of the International Union of Brewery, Flour, Cereal, Soft Drink and Distillery Workers when it received its charter to represent brewery workers in Toronto in 1902. Since that time we have grown and changed but, throughout the last 105 years we have always worked together to make the lives of our members richer, safer and more fulfilling.

In 1908, brewery workers were earning the then high wage of $10.00 per 48-hour week. Ninety-four years later, the brewery workers are earning more than 140 times that amount and are today, as they have been for the last century, among the highest paid industrial workers in Canada.

One of our proudest moments came in 1973, when in order to better represent our members and stay true to our democratic principles, our Union fought off the absorption of our International Union by the Teamsters and became a proudly independent Canadian Union.

We have pioneered innovative pension plans in the Brewing industry that are unique in Canada in that they provide early retirement options that upgrade the pension of those retiring before 65 to the then current pension when they become 65.

We fought the Free Trade Agreement and were successful in that the brewing industry was one of the only industries exempted from the first Free Trade Agreement (a status we lost in the second North America Free Trade Agreement).

While the number of our members in the brewing industry has shrunk with the introduction of new technology, the Union’s membership as a whole has continued to grow as our professional brand of unionism has attracted a broader and diverse membership, which has strengthened the Union immensely.

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The First Fifty Years

When Local 304 was chartered in 1902, it was one of the first labour unions in Canada. Most of the unions that did exist 100 years ago have long since disappeared. The first official mention of Local 304 in any records is contained in the June 21, 1902 issue of “The Brewery Worker” {the International Union newsletter}. It reported,

“Organizer, Isaac Sanderson notified National Headquarters this week that a new union of brewery workers was organized by him in Toronto with over 50 charter members, and he expected more than 200 to be in the organization within two weeks. He speaks of these new members in the highest of terms and praises their enthusiasm. Preparations are now being made to organize the malt house workers, who number about 120 during the busy season. Once started, the work of organizing the brewery workers in Canada will be carried on with system and energy, and soon our brothers in Canada will learn the great good organized labour can accomplish. We greet you Toronto brothers in the name of the older members within our ranks, are destined to tie the bonds of international fraternity and solidarity and become helpers in the great missionary work of the working class. Fulfil your duties, enjoy what you have attained through your organization, and follow always the slogan; “United we stand, divided we fall”

In that same month, June 1902, Local 304 received its International Charter. This was only 16 years after the first brewery delegates had met in secret in Baltimore to form the International itself.

Local 304 was not the International’s first attempt to form a Canadian local. A charter had been issued for a Local 282, Victoria, British Columbia, as early as August or September 1901 but the Local disappeared within three years and was replaced by a new Local 282, in Ashland, Wisconsin. Then about April 1902, another International Charter was issued to a Local 300, Guelph, Ontario, which did not last long either and was reorganized between 1908 and 1910. This Local 300 was finally merged with Local 304 in 1915, and, considerably later, was replaced by a new Local 300 in Vancouver, British Columbia, which still exists today. Thus Local 304 was the third brewery worker local chartered in Canada and can justly claim to be Canada’s oldest surviving Union in the brewing industry.

The original members of the Local in 1902 were far too busy to spend time on such theoretical matters as relative longevity. They wanted a collective agreement and they got one. They must have made some considerable and rapid progress too, because by the next contract, their demands became even tougher. On May 6, 1904, they went on strike against two of seven Toronto breweries in support of demand for 12 to 15 percent wage increases. The two breweries had refused to negotiate and when the strike started, the other five breweries immediately locked out all of their own employees in sympathy, leaving about 1150 men out of work. All seven breweries then announced publicly that they would have no further dealings with the Local, and that they would operate henceforth strictly on an open-shop basis.

The fledgling Local faced a severe test. Other Toronto companies banded together to support the breweries, and it became quite clear that Local 304 was the first target in a general anti-union campaign throughout the city. The membership of Local 304, however, with the aid of the other Toronto unions, was equal to the challenge. They brought beer in from outside Toronto and organized a highly successful boycott of all the breweries, which lasted five weeks. Eventually the conflict ended when the employers capitulated and agreed to most of the Local’s terms.

The final collective agreement negotiated in 1904 has unfortunately disappeared but the membership of the Local had obviously made their point.  By 1908, they were making a minimum of $10.00 per week - high wages in those days - and they had perhaps the first master agreement in Canada covering all seven breweries; Copland Brewing Co., Cosgrove Brewing Co., Dominion Brewery Co., Kormann Brewery Co., O'Keefe Brewery Co., Toronto Brewing and Malting Co., and Reinhardt Co.  Further, all seven breweries had agreed to employ only union members - a position which no Toronto brewery has dared to challenge.

The Local has also survived all of these original breweries.

In retrospect, however, that 1908 contract had its humorous side also. One provision, for example, required that; "Drivers shall keep their horses, wagons, and harness in proper condition at all times with the exception of Sunday, when the drivers shall be compelled to put their horses in proper condition." It might be interesting to see the reaction of a present day Labatt or Molson driver who was forced to live up to that stipulation.

The 1904 dispute and its successful resolution so firmly established Local 304's position in Toronto that there were only a few major problems for many years. The wage rates and the collective agreements improved steadily every year as the Local became even stronger.

There were only two sizeable difficulties throughout this period and until the nineteen fifties came upon us. The first of these two situations occurred when the Government of Ontario adopted the Temperance Act of 1916, which prohibited the breweries from selling regular beer and restricted them to producing only light beer. Naturally the breweries themselves were severely crippled by this limitation and employment among Union members suffered accordingly until the Act was modified in 1925 and was entirely repealed in 1927.

The second and more serious difficulty arose in April 1923 when O'Keefe Breweries refused to grant the same wage rates, benefits and working conditions that had been secured throughout the rest of the industry.  There was a strike, and although the strikers eventually went back to work without securing all of their objectives, the dispute continued until June, 1930, and was not resolved until the brewery changed hands and the new owners adopted a more reasonable policy towards their employees

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Even back then, however, it wasn't all work.  In September 1906, the Local took time out to host the first convention of the International Union to be held outside the United States.  There were 142 delegates to the Convention, the largest the International Union had held to date, and it lasted for 13 days, and a few nights.  The record shows that a fair amount of business was transacted during the session, including the passage of one resolution to exempt boys and girls employed in the breweries from the payment of special assessments provided that their regular wage was less than $10.00 per week.  There was also a resolution to increase strike benefits to $7.00 per week.  This increase in strike benefits allowed most members of Local 304 to receive almost 70 percent of their base rates during strikes and lockouts.

There was time for entertainment too.  The official minutes for the second day of the convention, September 11, 1906 reported that;

"An invitation of the Local Unions of Toronto to take part in a street-car ride through the city was accepted and the motion carried to adjourn until tomorrow, Wednesday morning at 9 o'clock.  At 2 o'clock in the afternoon the delegates assembled near the City Hall from which point the trolley ride began.  The tour was arranged in such a manner that all things worth seeing, especially the breweries in the City of Toronto were shown to the delegates, but only from the outside.  A curious law forbids the proprietor of any brewery from giving any beer to visitors, or even to employees and this may have been the reason why the delegates were not invited to visit inside the breweries.  As a matter of fact we saw in a daily paper that proprietors of breweries at Berlin, Ontario and Hamilton, Ontario were fined $25.00 and costs for giving beer to their employees.  The trip brought us to a park or rather forest on the east end of the city, which, in its still virgin-like condition made a fine impression.  To our regret, we could find only New JerseyIce cream and warm soda in the line of refreshments.  It is not necessary to say that very little of those delicacies was consumed by the delegates.  On the way back the whole length of the city was crossed again until we reached High Park, located at the west end of Toronto on Lake Ontario.  Here we finally got an opportunity to quench our thirst and kill our hunger, as the Locals of Toronto had arranged for a very good lunch and a few kegs of beer.  The delegates amused themselves for several hours in boating and in having a good time in general until later in the evening, when we rode back to the city enjoying the tunes played by the bank we had taken along."

A few days later on September 15, the delegates did get an invitation to tour O'Keefe Brewery.  It is to be hoped that, curious law or no curious law, they managed to refresh themselves with something more than ice cream and soda.

Meanwhile Local 304 had not been negligent in other areas.  Organizing was a priority and the membership was extremely energetic about it.  Only four months after the Local was originally formed, the malt workers in Toronto were organized as part of Local 304, and then given a separate charter as Local 317.  They retained this Charter and identity until February 1917, when they again merged with Local 304.

After the Convention, the organizing work began in earnest.  From 1911 on, branch locals were established in Peterborough, North Bay, St. Thomas, Welland, and St. Catharines.  Eventually all these branches ceased to function, with the exception of the one in St. Catharines, which was separately chartered as Local 326 in 1934, and only ceased to function in the 1960's when most of the major breweries centralized their Ontario operations in Toronto.

St. Catharines was also the home of another local, Local 305, which was chartered almost at the same time as Local 304.  Local 305 had a rather turbulent history.  It became a branch of Local 304 in 1908, was reorganized as Local 305 in 1910, and then became a branch of Local 304 again in the same year.  It was finally disbanded in 1917.

The Next 25 Years

As a result of these drastic fluctuations and heavy consolidations in the brewing industry, Local 304 had undergone drastic changes by the 1950's.  It was still based largely in Toronto, but the membership had grown to about 700; the base rate in the brewing industry had increased to about $1.60 per hour, and standard benefits now included group insurance, pension plans, welfare plans, uniforms, vacations, statutory holidays, shift bonuses, and Sunday premiums.  Even the business agent had changed.  John Corcoran, who had served as business agent since the Local was formed, and as a member of the International General Executive Board since 1908, died in July 1929.

John Gavin

John Gavin

John Gavin was elected to take his place as business agent, and to serve on the General Executive Board, which he did until 1956. The employers had changed drastically too.  By 1950 most of the original breweries had gone out of business or amalgamated and a complete new group of companies had taken their places.  Canadian Breweries Ltd., owned Canadian Breweries Transport, and two O'Keefe plants, on Simcoe and Victoria Streets, as well as the old Carling plant on Niagara Street.  The only other two units in the Local were the Labatt's plant on King Street, and the Canada Malting plant on Fleet and Bathurst Streets.

Old Labatt Plan - King Street, Toronto

Old Labatt Plan - King Street, Toronto

Still the affairs of the Local moved slowly ahead. In 1952 it was one of the first Unions in Canada to hold a mail ballot for the election of officers and there was a small celebration to mark the Local's 50th anniversary.In 1955, the Local organized the newly constructed Molson plant on Lakeshore Boulevard, and managed to persuade the Company to extend a voluntary recognition and bargain for a collective agreement without the necessity of seeking a certification certificate.

Executive of 1st Molson Agreement

Executive of 1st Molson Agreement

Peter O'Dowd

Peter O'Dowd

The Local underwent another major change in 1955 also, Brother Gavin , who has served as business agent since 1929, retired at the end of his term after 26 years in office.  Peter O'Dowd was elected in his place. It might well be noted that when Brother O'Dowd resigned as business agent to become full-time President of the National Union in 1976, his twenty-one years in that office was the shortest term ever for a Local 304 business agent.

Even in retirement, Brother Gavin did not remain inactive for long.  The Local 304 Pensioner's Association was formed in 1956 and he became its first secretary-treasurer, an office he held until his death on April 29, 1965.  The Pensioner's Association still continues and is very active in planning events and arranging an annual dinner for retired members of the Local.

In 1956, Local 304 also made its first approach to the soft drink workers.  Pepsi-Cola, Toronto was organized in that year and the unit eventually formed one of the main foundations for the Soft Drink Workers Joint Local Executive Board.

That same year, the International Convention returned to Toronto.  This was only the second time a Convention had been held in Canada and on both occasions Local 304 played host to the delegates - this time in conjunction with Local 326 and Local 356.  This Convention held at the Royal York Hotel lasted only six days and was a rather more formal affair than its predecessor in 1906.

Pensioners Banquet 1965

Pensioners Banquet 1965

There was a great deal to discuss.  The International Union in the United States had been under sustained jurisdictional attack ever since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 and the Teamsters had been particularly aggressive in their efforts to raid.  In 1941, the Teamsters had gone so far as to convince the American Federation of Labour that the Brewery Workers should be expelled for their refusal to merge with them.

The International had later (in 1955) became re-associated with the American Federation of Labour, when the merger of the AFL and the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO) took place, but the Teamsters problem did not end.  Although no resolution to the Teamster dispute emerged at that time, the 1956 Convention was but a forerunner of the 1973 Convention in Cincinnati when most of the American locals did merge with the Teamsters.

1956 International Convention, Toronto

1956 International Convention, Toronto

The next two years saw an even larger transformation.  The Local set up its first strike fund in 1957, a new pension plan was instituted at Labatt, and the breweries returned to the industry-wide bargaining format, which had been abandoned for a number of years.

The strike fund was set up none too soon.  In 1958 Brewer's Warehousing employees went out on strike against their Company and, when members of Local 304 refused to act as strikebreakers, they were locked out.  The strike lasted eight weeks and none of the Toronto breweries resumed operations until the Warehousing contract had been settled on reasonable terms.

Events crowded even more closely as the years flew by.  The Local office moved from its old location at 137 Bond Street to 501 Yonge Street in 1960.  In the same year, Niagara Dry in Niagara Falls was organized and the Local attained 1000 members.  The Canadian Labour Congress Research Department reported that the brewery workers were the highest paid industrial workers in Canada.

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The year 1961 also initiated some traumatic problems for the members of the Local.  Carling O'Keefe opened its new plant in Etobicoke and began to consolidate all its operations under one roof.  The O'Keefe plants on Simcoe and Victoria Streets were beginning to be phased out and Local 327, Dow Breweries in Kitchener was merged with Local 304 when Dow Breweries moved to Simcoe Street in Toronto.  Canadian Breweries Transport workers in Hamilton were also moved to Toronto, all of which created heavy layoffs.

In 1962, the Local had a big increase in membership as it successfully raided the Teamsters for 50 Pepsi-Cola workers in Hamilton and at Hyatt Transport in Toronto.  Later in the year, Local 304 was certified for Coca-Cola workers in Hamilton.  The Coke employees eventually went out on strike in December.  The strike lasted some 50 weeks and only ended when the Company finally capitulated and agreed to recognize the Union's bargaining rights.  Throughout this entire period, Local 304 was paying $1,000.00 per week to the striking members.

The membership kept increasing during 1963 and 1964 as Local 304 was successfully certified for Carnation Foods in Alexandria, Coca-Cola in London, Pepsi-Cola in Niagara Falls, Standard Brands in Guelph, and Dorans Breweries in Sudbury.  At the same time 49 members of the International Chemical Workers Union, Local 593, Dominion Malting joined the Local.

Negotiations were not forgotten amid this spate of organizing.  Canadian Breweries laboratory technicians were also certified in 1963.  They received an average increase of 61.04%.  The Ontario Federation of Labour reported this jump as the highest increase ever negotiated in Canada up until that time.  In 1965, the Local office moved once more, this time to 2349 Yonge Street, and Local 291, Dorans Breweries in Timmins surrendered its separate charter to merge with Local 304.

By 1966-67, the Canadian Breweries consolidation was well under way and eventually, after a very painful period and resignations by the Local president and recording-secretary, the Carling plant in Etobicoke broke away and was separately charted as Local 325 in June 1967.  At about the same time the Harley Transport was organized under the name Herb Payne Transport.

By 1970 the Local was organizing once more, and was certified for Parkdale Wines in Toronto {now Chateau Cartier Wines}, although a campaign at McGuinness Distilleries unfortunately did not succeed.  It was at this time that Lakeshore Foods changed their name to Miles Laboratories.

Only a year later national considerations began to take precedence over Local issues.  The International Union in the United States was now advocating merger with the Teamsters.  Local 304 representatives at the Convention in Cincinnati in September 1972 were in the forefront of the opposition to such a merger and when the issue was lost, they joined representatives from most of the other Canadian locals in withdrawing in protest.

Membership support in the Local for a Canadian Union was instantaneous, enthusiastic, and unanimous.  Local 304 Business Agent P. O'Dowd was named chairman of the "Provincial General Executive Board".  He was later elected President of the newly formed Canadian Union of United Brewery, Flour, Cereal, Soft Drink and Distillery Workers, at the Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto Conventions.  Lengthy legal battles with the Teamsters with respect to the Canadian Union's right to represent its' members continued until 1984 when, following an important victory at the Ontario Labour Relations Board, an agreement was reached with the Teamsters in which the Canadian Union recognized the validity of the merger with the Teamsters in the United States and the Teamsters recognized the independence and validity of the Canadian Union.

Meanwhile, the internal activities of the Local had by no means come to a complete standstill.  The Public Utilities Commission in Alexandria was organized in 1972.  Local Union 286 in Sault Ste. Marie decided to surrender its charter and join Local 304.  At almost the same time the Soft Drink Workers Joint Local Executive Board was established.  All of the soft drink units in the Local transferred their membership to the new organization with the full blessing and financial support of Local 304.  Employees at Jordan Valley Wines also joined the Local in 1973.

The Local offices moved again in 1974 to 15 Gervais Drive and, in 1975, the Local was certified form Chateau-Gai Wines stores in the Toronto area, and for Scott Laboratories.  Another organizing campaign at Canada Dry in Toronto was not successful despite the hard work and best efforts of some Local 304 members.

1974 also saw the Local and the Canadian Union in the forefront of the National Day of Protest, a one day nation-wide strike called by the Canadian Labour Congress to protest the Anti-Inflation Act which had imposed wide reaching wage controls on Canadian wage earners.  Brother O'Dowd was the only labour leader in Canada who was able to say that not one member of the Union worked during that day of protest.  The Union's strike had been 100% effective.

In 1975 employees at Canada Catering joined the Local and, in 1976, Canadian Mist and Nacan employees transferred their membership from Local 325.  The office of Business Agent changed hands for only the third time in 75 years, when in June 1976, Brother O'Dowd resigned to take up his mandate as full-time President of the National Union.  Robert Cassells, the Plant Chair of the Molson's plant for almost 20 years was elected to replace him for the balance of his unexpired term, defeating Cam Nelson, a National Union Representative who was just completing law school.

75 Years and on to 100 The elections of 1977 resulted in a clear victory for Brother Nelson.

Brewery negotiations that year resulted in wage increases of more than 22% in the second year of the agreement - the same year in which the Anti-Inflation Act expired.  This agreement increased wages to $9.75 / hour (from $7.98 / hour) effective July 1, 1979.

Kumar Ramcharran & J Cameron Nelson

Kumar Ramcharran & J Cameron Nelson

In addition to ongoing negotiations, grievances and arbitration the Local embarked on a series of new and aggressive organizing. During the 1978 to 1980 period, the Local was successful in organizing the workers of Alexandria Footwear (the only factory in Canada manufacturing Addidas running shoes); Paxton Transport; Dufferin Aggregates; Indusmin Sand and Gravel; Crawford Sand and Gravel; Superior Sand and Gravel; the bar and restaurant staff of then UAW Local 177 in St Catharines; and the employees of Laura Secord (now Nestle).  These additions increased the Local membership by more than 700, a 57% increase, taking its membership to just under 2,000.

The most ambitious campaign was the Local's first foray into the financial field when we attempted to organize the workers at the head office of American Express.  Although we collected membership cards for almost 50% of the workers and were able to obtain a representation vote we fell 25 votes short.

Another key initiative of this period was the implementation of annual training programs for the stewards and officers of the Union, a practice that continues to this day.

With the substantial increase in both membership and the number of collective agreements to be negotiated and serviced, as well as the commitment to continuing education and organizing, the Local needed to expand its staff.  As a result the Local created two new Assistant Business Agent positions - one primarily responsible for organizing and one for education and servicing.

Brother Dave MacMillian (formerly President of Local 304) was appointed, then elected as Assistant Business Agent - Organizing; and Brother John McNamee (formerly Director of Education and Research for the National Union) was appointed (and later elected) as Assistant Business Agent for Education and Servicing.  With Dave MacMillan stepping down as President of the Local to become an Assistant Business Agent Brother Ambrose Carroll, a member of the Local for 27 years and the former Plant Chair for the Carling O'Keefe transport unit was acclaimed as President.

The year 1980 also saw the retirement of Brother Peter O'Dowd as President of the National Union after an outstanding career as the leader of our Union and the founding President of the National Union itself.  Throughout his long career Peter never thought of his position as a job, he thought of it as his life's work, as his cause and he devoted his time and his effort unsparingly.  His greatest achievement was in leading the fight, in the face of extreme pressure, to keep this Local and the rest of the Canadian Locals from being taken over by the Teamsters in 1973.  Like all the fights he undertook he had the backing of the membership and with that was successful.

Organizing continued to be successful during the first half of the 1980's as the Union became certified to represent the employees at the Simcoe County Roads Department, Schenker Distribution, Corning, Fortier Beverages, Jordan's Wine laboratory, and two branches of Canada Trust.

The certification at Canada Trust led to the longest and most bitter strike in the Union's history.  Despite record increases in profits Canada Trust insisted on contracts that didn't allow the Union to negotiate wage rates, benefits or working conditions.  Nor would they allow the employees to be represented by a full time union officer in the grievance procedure, or agree to a provision requiring just cause for discipline or discharge.  There was to be no seniority protection.

The Union, and employees at the Cambridge branch would not accept this, and went on strike in March 1984.  The Union led a nationwide boycott, endorsed by the Canadian Labour Congress, at its 1984 convention.  This boycott, which got national headlines still failed to move the Company.  The strike lasted for 18 months and through two bitter winters following which the "scab employees" who had kept the branch open throughout the strike eventually voted to decertify the Union.

In early 1983 Assistant Business Agent Dave MacMillan was appointed as the Ontario Regional Director by National Union and his position was filled by the former Plant Chair of the Labatt Toronto unit, Don McDermott.


In 1984 the Local voted by more than 95% to join Canada's second largest Union - NUPGE - as an independent component.

John Fryer, Cameron Nelson - NUPGE Affliate

John Fryer, Cameron Nelson - NUPGE Affliate

The then-President of NUPGE, John Fryer, presented our Union Business Agent Cameron Nelson and President, Ambrose Carroll with its' Charter on January 20, 1985.

During this period the Local fought a five-week lock out of its entire brewery membership and was able to win significant job security and technological change protections.

Throughout the lockout, the Local continued to represent its members. In June of 1985 our delegates were seated for the first time at NUPGE’s National Convention.

Even during this period of struggle the Union continued to grow with the employees of Kwik Lok, Howard Johnson’s in St. Catharines, Woodings Railcar, and Upper Canada Breweries joining the Union.

1986 and 1987 saw the Union’s efforts focused on our fight against the Free Trade Agreement.

Free Trade Agreement Protest 

Free Trade Agreement Protest 

This was a huge political effort that found us, for once, working in close co-operation with the Breweries in that both the Union and the employers were aware of the devastating impact that the first Free Trade Agreement could have on the beer industry in Canada. At that time there was no free trade in beer even between provinces, let alone the U.S. and Canada, and there were breweries in each Province except PEI. These local breweries provided employment, generated good profits, and paid taxes in each Province.

The Union’s Save our Suds campaign cumulated in a one-day province wide shutdown of the Breweries on the day before a provincial election, September 9, 1987, and in a rally at Queen’s Park, which received terrific media coverage. The September 9th shutdown of the Breweries was the only time in the Union’s history that the employers took no legal action against either the Union or its’ members for conducting an illegal strike. While the overall fight by the labour movement against the FTA failed our fight to have the beer industry exempted was successful.

The year 1987 also saw the employees of the Senator Hotel in Timmins join the Union, and was also the year that Elders ILX, an Australian Brewing conglomerate, purchased Carling O’Keefe. This latter transaction was to have far reaching consequences to Canadian brewery workers.

Cameron Nelson & Cesar Chavez

Cameron Nelson & Cesar Chavez

On June 11, 1987 Business Agent Cam Nelson marched with Cesar Chavez, President of the United Farm Workers of America,along with approximately 50 other trade unionists to support the boycott of California grapes. The Farm Workers are boycotting grapes (for the 3rd time in 15 years) to protest the California government’s refusal to enforce state law protecting workers rights and the State Grape Growers refusal to bargain in good faith. Concern has also been raised about the use of toxic pesticides, which poison approximately 300,000 US farm workers each year.

Nineteen eighty-eight was memorable for a number of reasons. In the Brewing Industry negotiations our Local and Local 1 (representing the workers at the Labatt London plant) negotiated together for the first time. One result of that joining of forces was the substantial improvements obtained in the Pension Plan that year. Most significant was the establishment of the 85-point pension for our members in the Brewing Industry. Prior to that contract, an employee who retired before the age of 60 had his or her pensions drastically reduced. Thereafter employees aged 55 and older were entitled to an unreduced pension once they attained a combined age and service totaling 85.

A second dramatic improvement was the introduction of “cross-over”. These provisions recalculated the pension of an employee who had retired before age 65, so that he or she received the full pension their years of service would have earned them if they retired at 65. Consequently the employee who retired under the 85-point plan or at age 60 would receive all the improvements in the age 65 pension negotiated from the time of early retirement until their 65th birthday.

Cameron Nelson; Counsel; Supreme Court Challenge; Lavigne Case 

Cameron Nelson; Counsel; Supreme Court Challenge; Lavigne Case 

At its annual convention that same year, NUPGE delegates voted to establish a $4,000,000.00 strike fund that component unions could access on an interest free basis thus substantially increasing the Union’s bargaining power.

Victory in “Lavigne Case”

Pensioners Association Formed

1988 also saw an important legal decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal. In 1986 a community college teacher named Merv Lavigne funded by the right-wing National Citizen’s Coalition had gone to Court asserting that his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been violated. He claimed that his Union (Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union – a NUPGE affiliate) was not entitled to use his dues for non-collective bargaining issues. If successful, this argument would have substantially prevented unions from participating in the political process.

Following legal precedents from the United States the Judge at trial found in Lavigne’s favour, and ruled that unions could not use mandatory dues for political, social, or other non-bargaining related activities. On appeal, Brother Nelson acted as NUPGE’s counsel, and the Court of Appeal overturned the Trial Court’s decision and ruled that unions have the right to decide how they spend the dues they receive, including spending for purposes other than collective bargaining. Lavigne and the National Citizen’s Coalition immediately launched an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.Once again Brother Nelson acted as counsel to NUPGE, and, on June 27, 1991, in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the importance, value and legitimacy of the social and political role of unions in Canada and dismissed the Lavigne appeal.

The year 1989 saw the merger of Carling O’Keefe and Molson’s

Molson Plant closure protest 

Molson Plant closure protest 

The new “Molson’s” immediately announced a series of plant closures, including the closure of the Molson Toronto Fleet Street plant which had, up to then, been the Molson flagship, employing more than 500 members of the Local. The Union made every effort to convince the Federal Bureau of Competition Policy to disallow the merger, and made submissions to Investment Canada to the same effect. Sadly, but to no one’s surprise, the government would not take any steps to stop the mergers or the closures, and the Union was forced to meet with Molson to negotiate transfers, pension enhancement, and severance. While Molson ended up offering reasonable pension enhancements and severance provisions, it would not assure most employees losing their jobs at the Toronto plant, that they could transfer to jobs added in Etobicoke and Barrie.

Molson Plant closure protest 

Molson Plant closure protest 

This refusal to transfer employees to available jobs caused the Union to embark upon a full-scale boycott of Molson products. The boycott, which kicked off on June 1, 1989, with a march up Bathurst Street, and the purchase by every Molson marcher of a case of Labatt at the closest beer store, continued for five months. Members of the Union picketed, boycotted, advertised, and made as much noise as a determined Local of 3,500 could. They distributed boycott pennants at the Molson Indy and every other Molson sponsored event, and convinced the International Food Workers Union to condemn Elder’s worldwide. They made “Wayne Workman” - the example of a mistreated ex-employee - into a household name. Despite determined opposition, the Union kept at it until every Fleet Street employee who wanted a job with Molson at the other plants got one.

Despite the success of the boycott, the closure of the Fleet Street brewery and the loss of almost 500 of its’ highest paying members was a major blow to the Union.

Fortunately, that next year two important independent unions chose to join Local 304

The first was the 300 member National Brewery Workers, Local 1 a directly charted local union of the Canadian Labour Congress, which voted by an overwhelming margin to transfer from the CLC to Local 304.

The second was the 105 member Ontario Nurses’ Association Staff Union, which, like Local 1, chose our Union over several others

ONA [Ontario Nurses Association] Charter

ONA [Ontario Nurses Association] Charter

With the addition of the members of Local 1 in London the Union established an assistant business agent’s position and office to service the London and Western Ontario membership. George Redmond, former President of Local 1 was elected to this position. Given the loss of membership in the Toronto area and the need to focus even more strongly on organizing, Brother Don McDermott resigned his position as Assistant Business Agent and was hired on staff as a full time organizer, a position he held until the following year when he left Local 304 to work for another Ontario NUPGE affiliate the Ontario Liquor Board Employees Union

Nineteen ninety-one once again found the Union in the unusual position of co-operating with both the major breweries, as well as the Provincial and the Federal Governments, on the international trade front. The issues this time were complaints made by the European Economic Community and the United States under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to the effect that Canada discriminated against foreign beer. While Canada was not able to keep in place all of the measures that protected beer from foreign competition, this united effort did provide the industry with a measure of security. Also, in 1991, two new units, at Pfizer Chemicals and T&S Blowmoulding, joined the Union.

New Name For Our Union

In 1992, The Union substantially revamped its structure, changed its name, and chartered Local Unions throughout the Province.  The new name, Brewery, General & Professional Workers Union, was chosen to reflect the change in and diversity of our membership as well as remembering our roots.  The officer structure was changed so that Business Agent Cam Nelson became President; Assistant Business Agent John McNamee became the First Vice-President; and Assistant Business Agent George Redmond became Business Agent.  The Toronto area units were chartered as Local 304 with every other bargaining unit (some 35 in total) chartered as separate Locals.  During the year the employees of four of Ontario's Community Legal Clinics joined the Union, and the Union achieved yet another Canadian first when a bargaining unit composed of lawyers successfully struck at the Brant County clinic.  The employees at the Simcoe County Waste Management Department and those at Rexdale Truck Wash joined the Union.

Nineteen ninety-two was also the year in which Nestle first decided to sell the Laura Secord business, and, more importantly, the plant at which more than 500 of our members worked.  Knowing that many of the companies interested in buying the Laura Secord business would likely close the plant, the Union, in conjunction with the plant management, made a determined effort to raise the millions of dollars necessary for an employee purchase of the business.  Nestle did not accept any offer from the prospective buyers (even though ours was the best), and the plant continued in operation.

The Union faced another crisis in 1993.  In early August, Labatt informed it, and the Company's employees in Ontario, that it had decided to outsource the entire transportation department.  As a result of this announcement, all the transportation employees in both the Toronto and London plants were given notice of termination.  But the Union did not take this decision lying down.  The Union told the Company that there would be no new collective agreement reached at the end of that year it rescinded the decision to outsource.  The Union also developed a campaign targeting the Companies' upcoming annual meeting and highlighting the costs of a protracted shutdown in Ontario.  At the same time the Union made it clear to the Company that it was prepared to work with it to make the fleet's more competitive.  Labatt eventually agreed to hold off on the shutdown during negotiations.  A new collective agreement was eventually reached which included a commitment to maintain the fleet.

Alain Lajoie & Cameron Nelson; Alexandria Moulding Charter

Alain Lajoie & Cameron Nelson; Alexandria Moulding Charter

The following year saw the employees at Alexandria Moulding join the Union, as well as the establishment, by the Union, of a Labour Sponsored Venture Capital Mutual Fund - Trillium Growth Capital.  Trillium remained in operation as a separate labour sponsored fund until 1998 when it merged with the First Ontario Fund.  The Union continues as one of the sponsoring unions of the First Ontario Fund, and Brother McNamee sits on First Ontario's Board of Directors.

Days of Protest

Harris days of protest

Harris days of protest

With the unfortunate election of the Harris Tories as the provincial government in 1995, the Union joined together with the rest of the Labour movement in the marches, demonstrations, and shutdowns that made up the Labour Days of Protest.

These demonstrations protested against the Harris cuts to education and health care, as well as the vicious changes made to the Ontario Labour relations Act. The labour law changes made it much more difficult to organize new groups of workers, and much easier to decertify, and removed all lawyers from the collective agreements we had negotiated for them

Harris days of protest

Harris days of protest

The staff of the largest SEIU Local in Canada, Local 204, joined the Union. The 1996 negotiations with Labatt were also particularly difficult. These negotiations were conducted in the shadow of a firm Company decision to close one of the Ontario Breweries, likely Toronto, during the life of the agreement. In consequence, the goal of the bargaining committee was to dramatically improve the early retirement provisions of the pension plan so that, if one of the plants closed, a high percentage of the employees could retire at age 55. Building on its experience with Molson’s, the Union also wanted an agreement that any employee who wanted a job in the brewery remaining in operation be guaranteed a job with seniority.

After a very intense round of bargaining all those objectives were achieved. The new collective agreement effectively increased the 85-point pension, and a much higher and fuller pension was established at 25 years of service instead of 30. In addition, the pension amounts for normal, early, and 85-point pensions increased by 30%. Wages increased by more than 15% and employees at both Breweries were guaranteed transfer rights to the remaining plant in the event of a closure. The contract was ratified by more than 96% of the members voting.

Nineteen ninety-six also saw the hiring of Brother Rui Amorin as Director of Organizing. Over the next two years, the Union grew dramatically as the 1,000 member Med-Chem Laboratories was organized. In 1997, the SEIU International staff and approximately 200 security guards in seven Toronto area hospitals, and at Harold’s Security joined, while, in the following year, employees at the Wesley Urban Ministries and the St. Joseph’s Immigrant Women’s Center joined. Our membership topped the 4,500 mark.

Unfortunately, that membership level did not last long. The years 1999 / 2000 saw both the bankruptcy of Med-Chem Laboratories, and the sale by Nestle of its Laura Secord business, which entailed significant downsizing. In both these cases the Union once again entered the financial markets and made serious, and, particularly in the case of Med-Chem, heartbreakingly unsuccessful attempts to engineer employee-led purchases.

In the Med-Chem case the Union partnered with the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund to raise almost $100,000,000.00, and made a bid for the business. If successful, we could have kept our thousand members working. While our bid was, in fact, as good as the bid accepted by the Receiver, our financing could not be made unconditional until 2 working days after the Receiver’s deadline. Unwilling to wait, the Receiver accepted the rival bid of Canadian Medical Laboratories which proceeded to close the lab throwing 850 of our members out of work.

The sale had to be approved by the Court, and the Union launched a vigorous challenge, asking the Court to not approve the sale, and to approve our offer (which was as good) and would save the jobs of 850 people. Unfortunately the Court decided that it was more important to uphold the “good faith business decision” of the Receiver than to save the jobs. Our appeal to the Court of Appeal was unsuccessful, the sale to CML went ahead, and the lab was closed and 850 jobs lost although we retained about 150 members in the collection centers, which CML continued to operate. Brother Nelson was elected as one of the Inspectors in the Med-Chem bankruptcy and continues to act in that capacity so that the employees who lost their jobs get full severance and notice of termination pay.

In the Laura Secord case, the Union partnered with a New York based financier – Harrowstone – and made a strong bid of more than $70,000,000.00 – which was, unfortunately, not enough. The Laura Secord business (ironically named after the famous Canadian heroine who warned of the 1812 American invasion at great risk to herself) was sold to a Chicago based U.S. Company. In the result there was a 20% downsizing of the full time employee group. The Union’s membership returned to the 3,500 range.

Labatt; London; Local 1 - Lockout

Labatt; London; Local 1 - Lockout

Labatt London - Local 1 Lockout 

Our 100th year has not been without turmoil either, as the Local 1 fought a costly, and ultimately unsuccessful, four and one-half month lockout against Labatt, during which the Local leadership attempted to disaffiliate from the Union and join with the Labourers International Union of North America.

Key to the difficulties faced during this dispute was that the Toronto membership had reached a memorandum of agreement in January 2002 (which was ratified by 95% of the employees in that bargaining unit), while the London membership rejected an offer with the same monetary features, but different language, by a 97% margin on the same day. 

As a result the Union found itself, for the first time in its history, with one of its Labatt units working while the other was locked-out. Although the Toronto membership successfully banned overtime, the London Local leadership decided that it did not want to belong to a Union where one Local could work while they were locked out. As a result, the membership in London voted to disaffiliate and join the Labourers, while the Union as a whole asserted that there was no right to disaffiliate. The entire dispute ended up in the hands of the Labour Relations Board, and, as a result, the Company took the position that it could not bargain with either Union until the Board made a ruling.

After four months of lockout, and before the Board’s ruling, the Union parties agreed that this Union could negotiate with the employer. These negotiations failed to reach a Memorandum, but the last offer was put to the London members, and was narrowly accepted by one vote. The offer did contain some improvements over the January offer in the language area, but was one year longer than the 6 year Toronto agreement and contained less Pension and less guaranteed wage increases than the January offer.

At the prompting of the Vice-Chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board all parties to the disaffiliation dispute entered into an agreement in which it was agreed that our Union continued to represent the employees of the London brewery and that the Local had no right to disaffiliate from the Union.

In order to build back the support this Union has traditionally had in Local 1 Brother George Redmond took a leave of absence from his position as Business Agent and accepted appointment as President of Local 1 for a term, which expired in December 31, 2003. This Union will meet the challenge of winning back the confidence of its members in London. 

Local 528 Merger

Local 528 Merger

Historic Merger with SEIU in February, 2005

In early 2005, the Brewery, General, and Professional Workers' Union unanimously agreed to merge with Service Employees International Union. With over 2 million members, SEIU is the largest - and even more impressive - the fastest growing union in North America. As part of this historic merger agreement, SEIU agreed to merge all of their Ontario private sector/non-healthcare bargaining units into the newly chartered SEIU Local 2.on  BGPWU, almost doubling the size of BGPWU overnight.

On the heels of our Union’s merger with SEIU, in February of 2006, SEIU Local 528 (Racetrack and Gaming Workers)voted overwhelmingly to join SEIU Local 2 BGPWU. This historic merger brought an additional 1000+ members into Local 2 BGPWU and in so doing, significantly increased SEIU members’ bargaining strength and power in the racetrack and gaming industry.  Indeed, within a few months after merging with Local 2BGPWU, our new Branch Local 528 successfully unionized over 100 new members at its first-ever Racetrack Slots bargaining unit (Kawartha Downs) as well as a new Mutuels bargaining unit at the previously unorganized Woodstock Racetrack.

By utilizing our combined strengths and resources, SEIU Local 2 BGPWU and its Branch Local 528 will prove to be a formidable force in the racetrack and gaming industry, vigilantly defending our members' intrests and improving their quality of life

Local 244 merger - Mike MacDonald; Sharleen Steward; Cameron Nelson

Local 244 merger - Mike MacDonald; Sharleen Steward; Cameron Nelson

But our growth didn’t stop there. In October 2006, SEIU Local 244 also voted overwhelmingly to merge with ourUnion, adding more than 700members to SEIU Local 2 BGPWU. As our newest and second largest Branch Local, we extend a warm welcome to our west coast members and staff. What an exciting year!



Into the Future....

No Union, Company, or country survives 100 years without facing challenges, conflict, and controversy. Indeed it is the ability of those institutions to adapt to change; rise to challenges; and find ways to resolve conflicts, which allows them to survive and prosper. 

Justice for Janitors 

Justice for Janitors 

During the last 100 years this Union has had its share of challenges, controversy and conflicts, but has grown and prospered in spite of them. More important, its members have benefited by its work. We have outlived all the Companies we represented in 1902, and have expanded our membership well beyond our historic base in the brewing industry. Today 90% of our members work outside the brewing industry.

Today our members demand and receive a much wider range of services than they did in 1902 and while the basic tools which the Union has at its’ disposal to deliver those services (the strike and collective agreement) have not changed the Union it has a much wider arsenal ( financial, political, and legislative) at its disposal. Despite 105 years of changes the objective of the Union remains the same – to make the lives of our members richer, safer and more fulfilling.

Ours is a history of members working together to support their leadership and each other. It is a history that demonstrates at every juncture the importance and value to working people of working together in their Union. It is a history to be proud of and, if the first 105 years are any indication one which will see the Union continue to make things better for their members for the next 100 years. Just think – if the weekly wage increases by 139 times in the next 100 years as it did in the first 100 years a brewery worker in 2102 would be making slightly in excess of $194,000.00 for every 48 hour week he or she works.