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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