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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Vertis Communications files for bankruptcy in Canada, Quad obtains court order against protesting ex-workers

Among the latest developments in the labour dispute arising from the January closure of the Vertis Communications plant in Fort Erie, Ontario, Vertis Communications has filed for bankruptcy in Canada.

Formerly, since Vertis’s parent company was based in the U.S. and bankruptcy proceedings never took place in Canada, the company was able to avoid paying severance to its Canadian ex-workers.

The new move turns Vertis’s former Canadian workers into unsecured creditors.  “So we’re going to the bottom of the food chain,  Everyone else will get paid and if there’s anything left, it will be divided among us,” today’s Niagara Falls Review quotes Dan Wickson, president of Communications, Energy and Paperworks Union of Canada (CEP) Local 425-G, as saying.  CEP Local 425-G represents the former workers, who number about 100 and believe collectively they are owed about $2.7 million in severance pay (or a crude average of $27,000 per ex-worker.)

Social media rumours
One of my social media sources, Rooster1966, says the latest rumours suggest that the Fort Erie plant made too much profit last year to be eligible for bankruptcy and that the filing is supposedly backdated to October 2012.  S/he promises to keep me informed of new developments.  (Thanks again, Rooster.)

Wage Income Protection Fund
 Although the ex-workers seem less and less likely to get all of what they say is owed to them, Vertis’s Canadian bankruptcy will potentially make each of the ex-workers eligible for a pittance in compensation under the Wage Income Protection Fund.  This federal Canadian program provides up to $3,700 per employee in situations where workers are terminated without severance.

Quad/Graphics obtains court order against protesting ex-workers after threatening individual lawsuits
Since January the ex-workers have been picketing the closed Vertis plant gates 24 hours a day, about five workers at a time, delaying anyone from entering the property to seize the equipment and other assets remaining in the building. 

The assets have been purchased by Quad/Graphics, who took the ex-workers to court last week, seeking an injunction to end their picket line. The Liberal Minister of Provincial Parliament (MPP) for Niagara Falls, Kim Craitor, who has been supporting the ex-workers, tells Niagara This Week: “I was in court with them, and I’m pretty disgusted that Quad did that.” Craitor adds that Quad was not only seeking an order to force the workers out but also threatened separate cases against individuals to recoup costs.

“[Quad] implied they might sue people because of costs that were incurred when they had to hire some security,” Niagara This Week quotes Craitor as saying. “The workers were very upset and worried that they might now have to pay some kind of fine.” 

As a result of Quad’s court action against them, the ex-workers  are now subject to a new court order requiring them to allow trucks to enter the closed plant.  The order limits the protesters to holding only a 10-minute information picket on each vehicle,

Wickson tells Niagara Falls Review reporter Ray Spiteri:  "We're telling [vehicle drivers] why we're there, telling them our story and asking them to honour our picket. But we understand they're just average guys trying to feed their families, too."

"We still have to get our message out. It looks like it's too late for us, but maybe our effort will raise enough awareness so that others won't have to go through this in the future."

More background on this story is available at: