Fredericton mayor Mike O’Brien called a special meeting of City Council at 5pm on Friday, Feb 14 to consider its “contingency plans” during the strike of CUPE 508, the City’s outside workers. The special meeting began less than an hour after the official start of the City’s lockout of its workers.
The only item on the meeting agenda was “replacement workers contract.” According to information on the CUPE 508 Facebook page by members who witnessed the meeting, “the City councillors passed a motion to hire scab workers through AFIMAC.” The NB Media Co-op confirmed that the City did indeed sign a contract with AFIMAC.
According to CUPE 508, Kate Rogers (Ward 11) was the only councillor to vote against the motion to hire AFIMAC. Rogers, the sole woman on Fredericton City Council, was absent for the previous Council meeting on Feb. 10 at which councillors present voted unanimously to lock out the CUPE 508 workers in the event of a strike.
CUPE 508 gave its strike notice on Feb. 13 after its bargaining demands for wage parity with outside workers in other municipalities in New Brunswick were denied by their employer. The CUPE 508 collective agreement expired in December 2018. The right to strike is an important element of the collective bargaining process.
Strikes are legal in Canada. In 2015, the constitutional right to strike was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada. In their judgement, the Supreme Court ruled that “the right of employees to strike is vital to protecting the meaningful process of collective bargaining.”
“Scab” is a term used to describe a strikebreaker. Because strikebreakers undermine the collective bargaining process, hiring strikebreakers is illegal in several Asian countries and also in Quebec (Quebec Labour Code Section 109.1) and British Columbia. Strikebreakers sometimes work for corporations that “assemble private armies to disrupt union organizing, spy on workers, and break strikes.”
AFIMAC, the company hired by the City of Fredericton, is a “strike security expert” multi-national company with headquarters in the US and offices in a dozen countries. The Canadian office is in Ontario near Toronto. AFIMAC is known in labour circles as a “union-busting” company because it hires scabs.
AFIMAC has a US corporate brochure for labour dispute services describing how “a team of AFIMAC experts work with executives to provide the most comprehensive suite of services available in the marketplace, from planning a response to providing supplemental labor.”
AFIMAC is advertising online for workers for New Brunswick. For example, a job ad currently online indicates that AFIMAC is hiring snowplow operators to work in “upcoming assignments throughout New Brunswick” at hourly rates higher than the City pays its own snowplow operators. Given that AFIMAC’s contractors are moved all over the world, it is reasonable to assume that many or all of Fredericton’s AFIMAC’s people will come from outside the province.
According to a story by the Halifax Media Co-op, during the two-week faculty strike at the University of New Brunswick in 2014, the University administration hired AFIMAC security staff “to keep an eye on its picketing professors.” Subsequent freedom of information requests found that UNB paid AFIMAC $203,000 for that service.
The next year, the Halifax city water services, Halifax Water, paid $2 million to AFIMAC during a two-month labour dispute with CUPE workers on the picket lines. The president of CUPE local 1431, Heather Corkum, wrote a letter to a Halifax city councillor asking: “Even if you could justify having security during a labour disruption, how do you justify bringing in known union-busters and strike ‘specialists’ to use intimidation and coercion to try and strong-arm us into who-knows-what at such a high cost to the ratepayers?”
There is no doubt that by bringing strikebreakers into its labour dispute, the City of Fredericton has made the negotiating process more complicated – and expensive.
CUPE 508 workers set up their picket on Friday outside the City of Fredericton maintenance depot on the northside (St. Mary’s Street). On Saturday morning the temperature is forecast to be minus 22 C. Updates and expressions of solidarity are available on the Friends of CUPE local 508 Facebook page. Also available on the page are details of the wage demands of CUPE 508, presented at the bargaining table, that will give the Fredericton workers wage parity with their counterparts across the province.
Click here for the AFIMAC brochure outlining its services provided for labour disputes.
Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board and a former union leader with PIPSC, a federal public service union.
*this story was corrected on Feb. 16. Using strikebreakers is illegal in several Asian countries (the original version stated European countries). The countries are Japan and South Korea. Using strikebreakers is also illegal in British Columbia.