On the Line: Exploring the Strikes of 1970s Ontario through the IRHR Library's Collection

Boycotting and Bad Faith Bargaining at Radio Shack

Author: Romina Campanella, MMSt Candidate

At a Radio Shack warehouse in Barrie, Ontario, workers began a strike that reverberated across the province. The Barrie warehouse distributed electronic goods for the American company with their workforce comprising of about 85% women.1  Workers at the warehouse were lowly paid and often had to lift heavy objects over 50 lbs, sometimes resulting in injury.2  Furthermore, they took issue with management, raising concerns about favouritism, job insecurity, and unreasonably short notice of shift changes.3  When employees began union activity with the United Steelworkers of America, the company retaliated with anti-union tactics, including firing five organizers.4  The Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) ordered Radio Shack to reinstate the employees, but the company only allowed two of them back.5  Radio Shack continued with anti-union activities throughout the unionization and first contract arbitration processes, including threatening to move the warehouse out of Ontario, spying on union members, and supporting an anti-union petition.6  Furthermore, the proposals Radio Shack put forward during bargaining were purposely designed to increase conflict with the union.7

With no agreement in sight, Radio Shack employees went on strike in August of 1979. After the events of Fleck, this was seen as a continuation of the feminist labour movement in Ontario as most of the Radio Shack employees were women. Women’s groups like the International Women’s Day Committee supported the picket and called for a province-wide boycott of Radio Shack.8  Strikebreaking workers crossing the picket line and the presence of Barrie police added layers of tension to the already tumultuous strike. During this time, the union also filed a complaint against Radio Shack with the OLRB for bad faith bargaining. The strike continued for months, until a settlement was finally made in April 1980, granting the workers union security. The ORLB ordered Radio Shack to pay the union $330,000 for damages incurred due to bad faith bargaining and violations of labour laws during the union organization and the strike.9  The victory did not last long, however, as Radio Shack workers were back on strike in 1984 for higher wages and improvements to time off, seniority, and overtime. 

Back to Top


  1. Joan Osbourne, “Women Battle for Union Rights at Radio Shack”, Union Women 2, no. 7 (1979): 1.
  2. Osbourne, “Women Battle for Union Rights at Radio Shack”, 1.
  3. Osbourne, “Women Battle for Union Rights at Radio Shack”, 1.
  4. Diane L. Patterson, First Contract Arbitration in Ontario: An Evaluation of the Early Experience (Kingston: Industrial Relations Centre, Queen’s University, 1990), 6.
  5. Patterson, First Contract Arbitration in Ontario, 6.
  6. Constance Backhouse, “The Fleck Strike: A Case Study in the Need for First Contract Arbitration,” Osgoode Hall Law Journal 18, no. 4 (1980), 519.
  7. Backhouse, “The Fleck Strike”, 519.
  8. Globe and Mail, “Toronto Women Join Radio Shack Pickets”, 1979.
  9. Wilfred List, “Radio Shack to Pay $330,000 to Union”, Globe and Mail, 1981.

Back to Top

Additional Resources

The IRHR Library also maintains a file on the 1979 Radio Shack strike in its archive, including newspaper clippings and documents from the OLRB case. 

Back to Top