Ontario business closes after workers vote to unionize

Aug 31, 2015 by and

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Citing Mennonite teachings against involvement with unions, the owner of an Ontario woodworking business has ceased operations after a majority of employees voted to unionize.

Leon Gingrich, president of Gingrich Woodcraft Inc., in Dev­lin, Ont., informed about 25 employees of the decision Aug. 17.

The Fort Frances Times reported the workers voted 69 percent in favor of joining Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, on Aug. 12.

Multiple media outlets reported Gingrich cited Christian business principles in an email to customers explaining the decision to terminate all employees and close.

“As Christian business owners, our personal beliefs will not allow our conscience the freedom to work with a labor union, as we are required by Scripture to ‘live peaceably with all men,’ and not to use force to gain what we want or for what is required to succeed.

“Our decision in view of developments to date was to stop production of wood products at Dev­lin, Ont., effective Aug. 17, 2015. All production employment was terminated.”

Gingrich could not be reached for comment. It is unclear which Mennonite group he belongs to.

Unifor national representative Stephen Boon told the Times the union is exploring legal options for the workers.

“Despite the fact that several Mennonite operations across Canada are already unionized, Gingrich management has taken the shocking stance that their faith requires employees either remain non-union, and therefore underpaid and exploited, or instead be fired,” he said.

Goshen (Ind.) College history professor Steve Nolt said some Anabaptist groups have taken stands against unions, but that was focused on workers not joining unions because of coercive tactics.

“Although there is a history of Mennonites and Brethren in Christ not joining unions as employees, I’m not aware of any statement or point of doctrine that establishes a precedent of a Mennonite employer not working with a union,” he said.

Janis Thiessen, associate professor of history at the University of Winnipeg and author of Manufacturing Mennonites: Work and Religion in Post-War Manitoba, said Gingrich is not the first Canadian Mennonite to refuse to work with a union.

In 1996, some workers contacted the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America to organize a division of Palliser Furniture, owned by Art DeFehr, a member of the Mennonite Brethren church.

“DeFehr threatened to close the Winnipeg plant and transfer production to South Carolina if the workforce voted for a union,” Thiessen said. “Ultimately that union drive failed.”

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  • James Regier

    “As Christian business owners, our personal beliefs will not allow our conscience the freedom to work with a labor union, as we are required by Scripture to ‘live peaceably with all men,’ and not to use force to gain what we want or for what is required to succeed.”

    What wonderful logic! Workers unionizing because they do not feel heard when they ask for fairer wages and better standard of living alone is ‘use of force.’ Unilaterally closing a factory and taking away the livelihood of all workers because one does not agree with their bargaining tactics, on the other hand, is not ‘use of force’ and is somehow the “Christian” thing to do.

    What an interesting fantasy world this fellow lives in. With representation from such individuals as this (and sadly, this guy is one of many individuals), it can be no wonder that the number of people who do not take Christianity seriously continues to rise.

    • Ken Meyer


      They’re not “taking away” anything; instead, they’re just no longer GIVING something to them. Big difference.

      With that in mind, one might note that YOU aren’t “giving” to them as well. Shouldn’t YOU be equally responsible?

      • James Regier

        Well, all I can say with an attitude such as yours, I hope you are quite consistent in refusing your paychecks. After all, one such as yourself would not want to rely on the charity of his employer.

  • Ben Weaver

    James, it would seem Mr. Gingrich lives in the real world and does not indulge in utopian fantasies that you apparently subscribe to. Mr. Gingrich is the owner of this business and as such he is able to do with it as he pleases, and therefore faces the repercussions thereof. If he incurred enormous debts they are his to assume, if he was able to produce fantastic profits they are his to distribute as he sees fit. His employees have the right to walk out one day and never come back – he doesn’t quite have that freedom, but he does have the legal ability to run his enterprise as his morals indicate.

    You clearly side with the workers and ascribe to them some holistic intent – we do not know what type of wages Mr. Gingrich is paying, but I find it interesting you automatically assume he is not willing to pay ‘fairer wages’ and a ‘better standard of living’. For all we know they make a fine living and were co-opted into believing they could/would be paid more if they unionized. It is clear that you are not hesitant to disparage Mr. Gingrich whom you don’t know, and ascribe all kinds of evil intent and responsibility for the decline of Christianity.

    You might find it interesting to note that opposition to labor unions was not uncommon among many Mennonites (in Pennsylvania as I am familiar) for many years, just as natural as opposition to oaths or swearing. The invocation of force is all but guaranteed as the right to unionize is officiated and overseen by the ‘state’ whom is able to enforce labor provisions and strikes at the tip of a gun. In many cases one is forced or coerced to belong to a union despite a personal opposition to the concept. In addition, the tactics of a good many unions over the years proved to many Mennonites that they would be working within an inherently violent and conflict prone system, predicated upon distrust of managers and owners with whom they might be fellow congregants or believers.

    I find it similarly shocking (and telling) that the union representative automatically assumes that a non-union worker is underpaid or exploited by the very nature of not being in the union (and that James finds this compelling). This requires a complex set of mental gymnastics whereby one assumes the union wage is that actual ‘fair’ or ‘market’ wage and not some arbitrarily inflated wage secured by use of coercion and force. It doesn’t take much time living near the unions of any big East Coast U.S city to realize this is a falsehood of the highest proportion.

    • James Regier

      Fact. Workers who are satisfied and treated fairly are less likely to unionize.

      Fact. Mr. Gingrich claims only his “Christain” faith does not permit him as an employer to work with unions. He does not mention economics as a determining factor.

      Fact. Mr. Gingrich’s decision to close his plant takes away the livelihoods of all employees working for him. As such, his decision is every bit as forceful as their decision to unionize.

      What Mr. Gingrich does is not illegal. He is not obligated to keep his plant open, and I have never argued this. However, his decision to close is heavy handed and by my estimation morally repugnant. Perhaps not quite as repulsive as his decision to justify it in the name of “Christianity”. Jesus was not about hosing people.

      • Raymond Smith

        FACT; Unions destroy businesses.

        • Don Lowery

          FACT: I work in a school district who has done their best to kill unions. When I know former teachers in this district who have suffered nervous
          breakdowns from the stress of the district administrators doing
          everything they can do to treat you worse than their pets…I don’t care
          what this denomination believes about unions. When said church leaders
          are on the opposite of justice…except where they don’t have to deal
          with the effects of it directly…that is wrong. The teacher’s union is
          going to be the ONLY thing making sure I’m not hurt by those looking for
          money and power.

          You can believe whatever you want…but Mr. Regier is correct. If you want to disregard justice because employers like Leon Gingrich are more than willing to exploit their employees…then businesses need to be destroyed. Exploiting anyone is wrong…no matter what your aim is to get as much as you want. That Mr. Smith is why Jesus overturned the tables in the Temple…not because Jesus was subscribing to the capitalistic theory and wanted the “free” market forces to allow to be in play.

  • Debra B. Stewart

    Huh? Since when are Mennonite employers unable to work with unions? Because they want to “live peaceably with all men?” Really? That “living peaceably” cuts both ways, Mr. Gingrich. Methinks you probably didn’t want to risk having to pay decent wages and provide benefits in line with others in your line of work. Between the Iowa wedding venue kerfuffle, the Conestoga “we hate Obamacare” Supreme Court embarrassment, and the Canadian union confusion, Mennonites are looking right (pun intended) off-the-wall lately.

  • Ken Meyer


    Why aren’t *YOU* taking up the slack and hiring those let go? Surely *YOU* are willing to pay the “decent wages” where they weren’t, aren’t you? After all, *YOU* wouldn’t want to look “off the wall”, would you? [grin!]

    How’s about it…gonna’ “risk” it?

    • Joseph Penner

      I have no problem with Leon Gingrich choosing to shut down his business rather than work with a union. That’s entirely his choice and I don’t find anything particularly moral in the decision. It’s an issue of self-interest: do I believe its worth my while financially and/or philosophically to run my business with workers who are now organized?

      I think it’s a strange and somewhat disingenuous cop-out to state “religious conviction” as a reason for shutting down and as a Mennonite, I take a bit of offense that Gingrich would affiliate his choice with “Mennonite teachings.” The article demonstrates that there’s a difference between refusing to join a union as an employee and refusing to work with a union as an employer. Clearly, Mr. Gingrich has confused the two.

      If we really wanted to make a Mennonite-style peace/violence parallel with this scenario, I would say that both sides (unionizing workers and plant-closing owner) are engaged in non-violent resistance. They are both applying non-violent pressure to get their way. What we don’t know from the article is who had the moral authority on their side, though its obvious that many of us have our assumptions.

    • Debra B. Stewart

      Ken, I’m old, tired, retired (and always been off the wall) or I’d hire you based on your amazing imagination and conjecture alone!!! My husband is an FOP member and, given Chicago’s current crazy little mayor, grateful for the IL constitutionally mandated pension and benefits enjoyed by retired cops. In addition, given his medical condition, had it not been for ongoing, through the years union involvement in the negotiations of salary and benefits, he’d have been pushing up daisies long ago.

  • Bruce Leichty

    Off the wall, in but not of the world, this little light of mine, pilgrims and strangers. Sign me up, sheriff Stewart. What happened to the Mennonites of our parents’ generation who believed that the State ought to respect freedom of conscience, and freedom of religion? I’m thinking particularly of what you call the “Iowa kerfuffle,” which features a couple who I respect greatly for adhering to their beliefs notwithstanding the heavy-handedness of the provincial Thought Police. And we simply don’t know enough about the Ontario business to conjecture the way you are. Freedom of conscience is NOT the same thing as “separation of church and state,” which is often the refuge of scoundrels who’d like nothing more than to limit the influence of religion so that the supposedly religion-neutral “State” can do whatever it will. .

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