Garbage trucks were lined up outside a landfill south of Bathurst after a lockout of CUPE workers left nobody inside to deal with the waste. A CUPE picket at the site blocked scabs (“replacement workers”) from entering.
The Red Pine landfill in Allardville takes all the garbage from the regions of the Acadian Peninsula, Chaleur, Restigouche, and Northumberland County.
On Feb. 19, Chaleur Regional Service Commission (CRSC) staff attempted to enter the landfill with scabs but CUPE 4193 workers prevented their vehicles from crossing the picket. Serge Plourde, a labourer at the landfill and president of CUPE 4193 said workers on the picket told the CRSC staff they could enter without the scabs.
“We are here today to make sure the scabs cannot cross the picket line, and we are holding the line,” Plourde told the NB Media Co-op. The 23 CUPE local 4193 workers locked out by the CRSC include labourers, heavy equipment operators, scale operators, security guards and technicians. Later that day, the CRSC issued a notice that the landfill would be closed for the afternoon.
On Feb. 12, the CRSC had filed a lockout notice for the CUPE 4193 members. Days earlier, management negotiators walked out of collective bargaining. Issues on the table at the time were non-monetary: notice for sick days and unpaid union leave. The collective agreement expired December 2017.
Plourde said this lockout was the first since the workers were unionized more than 20 years ago. Some workers on the picket have been with the landfill for almost 30 years. The workers learned of the lockout when they went to work the morning of Feb. 13 and a security guard at the gate told them they could not enter. “We work with garbage and they are treating us like garbage, something you can just throw away,” said Plourde.
The Chaleur Regional Service Commission has not responded to the NB Media Co-op’s requests for more information about the company they contracted to provide “replacement workers.”
Last week, Fredericton City Council contracted AFIMAC to provide “replacement workers” for the City’s locked-out outside workers. The Fredericton labour dispute was resolved quickly, after City residents expressed their unhappiness to the Council about the AFIMAC contract.
Plourde said that New Brunswick unions need to push for a provincial no-scab law, because scabs take power away from the union to negotiate a fair contract.
Using scabs during a labour dispute is illegal in Quebec and BC and strongly discouraged by the United Nations International Labour Organization because it undermines the integrity of collective bargaining. A collective agreement is intended to keep peace on a worksite and avoid labour disputes. Using scabs damages the labour relations system and can lead to confrontations and even violence on picket lines.
Brien Watson, president of CUPE NB and Daniel Légère, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, joined the the picket with Plourde and other CUPE 4193 members twice this week, including yesterday when temperatures at the rural landfill site were below minus 30 C.
Many CUPE members on the picket carried the distinctive yellow fist sign for CUPE NB’s Breaking the Mandate campaign. Watson told the NB Media Co-op that Breaking the Mandate is driven by the membership. The provincial government’s austerity measures have meant “years of taking zeros and ones” in wage increases that have kept real wages in decline.
He said: “We’ve done our part and have seen the results.” Pointing to worker shortages in all public sector workplaces, Watson said many people no longer want to work in the public sector, and new people will not move to New Brunswick for low-paying public sector jobs.
As reported recently by the NB Media Co-op, municipalities in the province are attempting to balance their budgets by limiting wage increases for workers providing municipal services. A tax structure should provide municipalities with the necessary funds to pay workers fair wages. However the current tax structure in New Brunswick is defective. Notably, taxes levied on heavy industry were reduced 43% by the previous PC government under then finance minister Blaine Higgs.
The low taxes for heavy industry affects the City of Saint John in particular. A CUPE presentation in January to Saint John City Council demonstrated that the City is losing hundreds of millions of dollars every year because of a tax regime that favours the JD Irving paper companies and the Irving Oil refinery at the expense of ordinary City residents.
The faulty tax regime is only one element in an economic structure that favours the most wealthy people in the province. The 2019 list of Canada’s richest people includes the only two billionaires in New Brunswick. JDI Irving owner James Irving is number five on the list, with a wealth of $6.3 billion, and Irving Oil owner Arthur Irving is number 13, with a wealth of $3.5 billion.
Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board.