New Low Prices or just New Lows?

Reports that Target is opening nearly
two dozen stores in Ontario have come from multiple sources in several mediums.
Perhaps the more compelling story, however, is why these media sources choose
to provide Target (and Walmart years earlier) with what is essentially free
advertising. [1]
This is a deceptively important issue. In so widely reporting on the fact that
Target is opening new stores the media stands in opposition to the interests of
Canadian workers.

Media exposure is directly related to
corporate reputation. It has been persuasively argued that “newsworthiness of
company activities” is a variable which determines the image and reputation of
a corporation. Research on corporate reputation has shown that “…
favorable reputations may enable firms to charge premium prices, attract better
applicants, enhance their access to capital markets, and attract

Since media exposure of a corporation’s
activities is one factor likely related to the effect and breadth of corporate
reputation, in widely reporting on the opening of Target stores, the media is doing
Target an invaluable service – enabling it to increase profits and finance
operations. These boons are in addition to the obvious and inexplicable
advantages of the free advertising Target receives. The danger of this intimate
relationship between media exposure and corporate interests is that while the
media is busy over-exposing the rather pedestrian event of chain-store
openings, the damage these events are having on Canadian workers is being largely
under-reported. The price of the media’s service to Target is its disservice to
Canadian workers.

Target has been using its acquisition of
Zellers’ leasehold interests, pharmacy records and a brand waiver to enter
Canada and it does not plan to respect the rights of the workers who’d been
employed by Zellers. In fact, Target’s plan has been to fire all of the Zellers
workers. The former Zellers workers are guaranteed an interview with Target if
they wish to reapply with Target, but there is no guarantee they will be hired.
Even if the workers reapply and are hired, the experience and seniority they’d
accumulated at Zellers will not be recognized by Target.  

In 2012, UFCW, Local 1518 stepped up to
protect its members. The union argued that Target was bound by successor
interests under the BC Labour Relations
and so lacked the capacity to fire Zellers employees. Target
successfully challenged the unions’ claims. Since Target did not purchase
Zellers proper but only the leasehold interests in Zellers locations, the BCLRB
found that Target was not a successor employer. Of vital importance to the
Board was the fact that Target’s brand had significant recognition separate
from Zellers and did not intend to continue the Zellers model of business:

significant feature of this case is the enormous amount of evidence led
regarding Target’s unique position in the retail sector, its marketing
strategies and the high amount of consumer recognition of its brand. I find
that Target is bringing its own highly successful business to Canada. It did
not need Zellers for anything but the lease or the opportunity to negotiate a
new lease…Though the employees may perform similar jobs in both stores and the
Transaction Agreement confirmed the transfer of leases, pharmacy records and
the Brand Waiver, I find those are not sufficient for me to conclude there is a
discernible continuity of Zellers’ business[3].

Note that one of the factors the Board
took into consideration in determining that Target was not a successor employer
was the fact that Target has high “consumer recognition of its brand.” As we
have seen, media exposure is positively linked to consumer recognition. In
giving such intense media exposure to the opening of a US-based chain store in
Canada the media is arguably undermining the rights of Canadian workers to the
job protections afforded by successor rights.

The media would provide a better service
to Canadians if it reported on the more important aspects of Target’s foray
into Canadian waters. Such aspects include the fact that thousands of Zellers’
workers across Canada will lose their jobs, their seniority, and the working
lives they’d known, some for decades[4]. Target
has done an end-run around the successor rights of workers, buying leasehold
rights which avoid continuity of business claims by workers. The story behind
the story is not that department stores are opening, but rather that thousands
of Canadians are being detrimentally impacted by the entrance of these stores
into the Canadian market. This is the story the media should be reporting on. As
famed Canadian professor of communication theory Marshall McLuhan once stated: the real news is bad news.

You may also like

Lufthansa Flights Canceled Due to Strike

Lufthansa Flights Canceled Due to Strike

We Have a lot to Thank Unions For

We Have a lot to Thank Unions For

This Week in the History of the International Labour Movement Wagner Act

This Week in the History of the International Labour Movement Wagner Act
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Subscribe to our Bulletin now!