By Lana Payne, Atlantic Regional Director
For nearly 630 days, 30 workers from Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador have been locked out by their American-based employer D-J Composites.
They are facing their third winter and third Christmas on a picket line.
D-J Composites has twice been found guilty of violating labour laws by bargaining in bad faith.
Over the course of the last year, the company has been gradually bringing in scab labour. Advertising on local and national job sites. These people know they are being used to bust a union. They know they are taking someone else’s job. They have a choice. They choose to be used by the employer in this way, and they must know their action is helping DJ Composites to prolong the lockout. They see it in the faces of our locked-out members every day as they pass them on the picket line. The despair, frustration, the desperation. It’s easily recognizable to anyone who has been to the line to spend time with our members, as I have.
Today the company has as many people (scabs, managers and non-union staff) working in the facility as are locked out. There is no law that prevents an employer from using scabs in Newfoundland and Labrador. This lockout is just one more example of why this needs to change. Not just in Newfoundland and Labrador but right across the country. Today, with the exception of Quebec and British Columbia, anti-scab legislation does not exist.
But we do have laws that require employers to bargain in good faith and make reasonable efforts to conclude a collective agreement. D-J Composites has not. Those laws seem toothless because there have been no repercussions for breaking them. In one of the cases, D-J Composites got a mere “don’t do that again” – as if the company was a four-year-old who had just crayoned the living room wall.
Here is the reality – the company broke the law – twice. Both violations occurred after they initiated a lockout of our members. Then they hire scabs. Life goes on as usual for the company, while the lives of our members and their families are destroyed. Simply put – D-J Composites has gained advantage by breaking the law. That the government knows this, sees this, continues to let this happen and does nothing is unacceptable.
I have written the premier of the province three times asking to meet to discuss the dispute. To date – no response. We have met with the labour minister. We have recommended sensible changes to labour laws to protect workers rights and to deal with employers who refuse to bargain in good faith as the law requires them to do. We have asked the government to implement the recommendation of the Voisey’s Bay Industrial Inquiry report which laid out a legislative change that would prevent these kind of long disputes and would create meaningful consequences for employers found guilty of bad-faith bargaining. Our sensible suggestions and recommendations have gone unheeded.
We have used ads and billboards to explain the shameful circumstances of this lockout.
We have targeted the premier in these billboards, asking whose side he is on.
We had an information picket line at the employer’s headquarters in Wichita, Kansas.
We pleaded for an independent mediator because binding arbitration is not available to our members- at least that is what the government and the labour board tells us.
We have done everything possible to reach a fair collective agreement for our members who are defending their jobs, their right to a union, and their Charter right to fair and free collective bargaining.
How much more should our members take? They have suffered indignity after indignity.
Every day, they must swallow their pride and their anger as scabs cross their picket line, and take their jobs. They watch while their own bills pile up because they have used all their retirement savings in order to keep the wolf from the door. They have taken part-time jobs. They continue to faithfully walk the picket line. Every. Single. Day. For nearly 630 days.
It’s easy to say give up. It’s easy to say take the horrible offer from the employer and go back to work.
But it takes courage to stand up for something. To defend the principle of democracy in a workplace.
Heading into Labour Day, Unifor decided enough.
21 months of humiliation was enough.
21 months of no pay cheque for our members was enough.
21 months of them defending their right to a union was enough.
We would step up our campaign against the employer and the government.
We ran radio ads throughout Labour Day weekend.
We ran social media ads, targeting the use of scabs.
We renewed our petition calling on Premier Ball to fix labour laws.
We did another online letter to the employer.
And we did a video, exposing the replacement workers being used to prolong the lockout.
And yes we received some negative reaction about this. We received support as well.
The criticism is from people who have never had to stand up for their rights the way our members are. From those who have never walked a picket line for 21 months as their employer does everything to break their spirit and bring them to their knees. Criticism from those who have never had to walk a picket line and have someone else take your job.
For 21 months we could have used your outrage.
This is what I do know. Change happens because of courage like that shown by our 30 members in Gander - because of tension and uncomfortable moments. This is one of them.