In 1984, the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) began the another attempt to unionize Eaton’s stores (a previous one had occurred from 1948-52 – see a story about Eaton’s organizer Eileen Tallman in the 1950 Macleans archives).
After months of organizing, 1,200 workers in five Eaton’s stores in Toronto, and one in St Catharines, Ontario, joined the union. The workers, largely women and part-timers, were concerned about working conditions, but also about the company’s refusal to offer pensions or job security. While the company insisted on bargaining store by store, rather than working on a master agreement, the workers agreed on a coordinated bargaining strategy around common issues.
In November 1984, after fruitless bargaining, the Eaton’s workers walked out on a certification strike that lasted more than six months. Despite strong support from women’s groups, the broad labour movement, and the community in Toronto and St. Catharines, the first contract the workers got was weak, and, two years later, workers in five of the six stores voted to decertify their union.