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Surveillance maintains fair play during labour disputes: MKD

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

Surveillance can keep both management and unions playing fair during labour strife, says Jim Downs, founding partner and managing director of MKD International Inc.

He tells AdvocateDaily.com that his investigative firm is often hired to conduct security planning during labour disputes, and to perform surveillance on the picket line at sites all over the province, including mining companies in northern Ontario.

“During a strike, there are rules of engagement that set out acceptable practice for both sides, and our presence can help ensure there are no breaches,” Downs says.

When acting for companies where employees have walked out, he explains that most of the work involves undercover camera operators taking video at the front line.

“From the company standpoint, if strikers are violating the rules, then they can use the footage as evidence that might form the basis of an application for an injunction or some other court action,” Downs says.

The firm's investigators keep a safe distance from any action since it is not involved in providing guards for physical protection at work sites.

“In most cases, violence is not an issue and there are no problems, but depending on the particular circumstances of a situation, and the relationship between management and the union, things can sometimes get out of hand,” he adds.

For example, Downs says MKD has acted on cases where a small local that belongs to a much larger union has bused in supporters from elsewhere in Canada or even as far as the United States.

“People who have travelled a long way are sometimes interested in goading things, which can be potentially problematic,” he says. “We can consult on intelligence and conduct surveillance on people who are suspected troublemakers.”

But MKD’s work is not confined to the management side of such disputes, and Downs says the firm has worked for unions that suspect their employers may not be playing fair.

“If they’re using non-union personnel, that can be a heated issue,” he says. “The idea is that we are there to capture any violations of the rules of engagement and mitigate any potential violence. If we spot any rule-breaking, then that can be used in evidence in court or at an arbitration by the union against the employer.

“Some of our operations can go 24/7, while others are just during the days. It varies, but we’re very flexible,” Downs adds.

MKD is the only firm of its size in Canada where all of its investigators are former police officers, a fact that comes in handy on those rare occasions when things do get nasty.

“As former law enforcement, we’re all familiar with issues of violence, property damage and mischief,” says Downs, who spent 22 years with the Toronto Police Service before forming MKD.

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