Locked-out workers win employment insurance fight


July 18, 2018

GANDER – Unifor has won a landmark Employment Insurance (EI) victory for workers locked out since December 2016 by their employer, D-J Composites in Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador.

 “This is a significant victory for our members both financially and in raising their spirits,” said Lana Payne, Atlantic Regional Director.“Eighty-two weeks on a picket line is tough and demoralizing. We have consistently told our members that we will leave no stone unturned in representing them and their rights.”

Unifor appealed an EI Commission decision that had denied the workers Employment Insurance benefits.

In most strike-lockout situations, workers are ineligible to collect EI, but in the case of D-J Composites, the Social Security Tribunal found that the employer did not meet the test of a lockout as outlined in EI regulations and ordered that workers be awarded all EI benefits. This means some members will receive a year of EI benefits.

The employer had issued the workers records of employment weeks after locking them out. This is not a normal practice in a strike/lockout situation and instead is usually done when severing the employment relationship. The workers filed for EI after receiving their records of employment.

The case focused on the definition of a "labour dispute.” Although there was a strike vote and a vote rejecting the employer’s latest offer, the union did not issue notification to the employer of any job action. The union fully intended to return the bargaining table to obtain a fair collective agreement. 

The Tribunal noted that actions by the employer demonstrated advance preparation for the lockout and there was no work stoppage and production continued. The Tribunal held that the workers were “laid off in anticipation of a work stoppage, not because of a stoppage of work attributable to a labour dispute.”

This EI decision was welcomed by Ignatius Oram, Unit Chair , Local 597, but he said members are deeply disappointed in the provincial government’s lack of attention to their plight.

“I have to ask, if we were locked out in the Town of Deer Lake, would we be getting the same response from the premier? I sincerely doubt it,” said Oram.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government has refused to recognize that their outdated and flawed labour laws have allowed this lockout to continue for 19 months while the employer has repeatedly violated those laws said Payne.

“The complete inaction by the provincial government has prolonged this 577 day lockout and sent a clear message to the employer that they can break laws at will with no repercussions,” said Payne. Premier Dwight Ball has failed to respond to three requests from Unifor to meet to discuss the dispute.

Unifor is running billboards in St. John’s and Deer Lake asking the premier ‘Whose side are you on?’ For more information on this lockout please visit unifor.org/SupportLocal597

For more information, please contact Unifor National Communications representative Natalie Clancy: @email or (902) 478-9238 (cell).