The owner of D-J Composites will spend the holidays in his Kansas State Mansion, where the temperature rarely dips below freezing, while 32 Canadian workers are about to spend a second Christmas outside on a frigid picket line.
Just days before Christmas, in December of 2016, Rezaul Chowdhury’s U.S. based company locked out its unionized workers at an aerospace manufacturing facility he owns in the small community of Gander, Newfoundland.
D-J Composites locked the workers out of their jobs after the union refused to agree to a terrible contract that would have frozen some wages until 2020. This proposed freeze is on top of the fact that the workers have not received a pay increase since 2014.
Gander is the same small town made famous for opening its hearts and homes to 7,000 American and international travelers stranded after the September 11, 2001 terror attack. The people of Gander and nearby communities, are celebrated nightly in a Tony award winning Broadway show, “Come from Away.” The 32 locked out workers are among those who did their part to help stranded travelers. The show depicts their town’s warmth and hospitality -- in stark contrast to their employer’s shrewd coldness.
After Chowdhury’s U.S based parent company, D-J Engineering, bought the Gander operation in 2012, the company’s relationship with its employees grew more and more disrespectful.
This is despite the fact that the employees, members of Unifor local 597, gave the employer many concessions to help it succeed and build an aerospace footprint in their small town. But over time, it has become clear from Chowdhury’s actions that he has one objective: bust the union and starve workers.
In March, D-J Composites returned to bargaining looking for even more concessions. This time, instead of wage freezes, Chowdhury’s company demanded a pay cut and proposed to end seniority protections. The wages at the aerospace facility are already modest at best. The demand to gut seniority was a direct attack on the union in the workplace.
D-J Composites has since been found guilty of bargaining in bad faith by the provincial labour board, which is a violation of provincial employment law. This U.S. based employer continues to behave as though it’s exempt from local labour laws. Mediation ordered by the Newfoundland Minister of Labour subsequently failed to get the company to budge on its unreasonable demands.
Now these workers are facing another harsh Canadian winter in a region hit hard by snowstorms, ice storms and raging winds.
These workers will not be broken or bullied into accepting impossible demands. Their union, and its 315 thousand members stand behind them in their fight for a reasonable and fair collective agreement.
In Canada, our labour laws require respectful and fair collective bargaining, which is usually a genuine give-and-take where employees have a democratic say in their working conditions. DJ Composites has not honoured this.
And while Chowdhury, the company’s owner is tucked snuggled away in his Kansas state mansion on a golf course, Unifor members stand 4,500 kilometers away on a picket line seeking respect from their employer.