“I like my job,” says Claudia Gionet, a CUPE 4193 member on the picket at the Red Pine landfill in rural Allardville in northern New Brunswick. “I wake up in the morning feeling happy to go to work.”
At the end of her work day on Feb. 12, Gionet said a friendly “see you in the morning” to her colleagues. When she arrived at the landfill the following morning, a security guard at the gate told her she was not allowed in. Their employer had locked them out. “Why would they do that?” she wonders. “I would never have imagined they would do that.”
For Gionet, working with her colleagues at the landfill was “like a big family … and now they’ve destroyed all that.”
Gionet and her 22 colleagues in CUPE 4193 have been without a contract since December 2017. Bargaining for a new collective agreement had not been going well. The CUPE team would not discuss a demand by their employer, the Chaleur Regional Service Commission (CRSC) that every worker should produce a doctor’s note the first day calling in sick. The CRSC management team got up and walked away from the bargaining table.
On Feb 12, the CRSC issued a lockout notice. On Feb. 19, the CRSC attempted to bring scabs (“replacement workers”) into the landfill but CUPE 4193 workers prevented their vehicles from crossing the picket. The landfill was closed that afternoon.
The same day, CRSC administrators signed affidavits to obtain an injunction. On Feb. 21 a court in Bathurst granted an order that limits the CUPE picket outside the landfill to six members. With only six on a picket, it is difficult to keep scabs out of a workplace. The landfill is now operating with scab labour.
Claudia Gionet remembers the date she started work at the Red Pine landfill: September 5, 1995. She also remembers that when the landfill was set up outside of Allardville, the Regional Commission at the time promised that the workers would all be from Allardville and Saint-Sauveur, another rural community 10 kilometres away.
The agreement to have only local labour working at the landfill was a deal, recalls Gionet, explaining that not everyone wants a garbage dump located in their community. The deal was that the landfill would be in Allardville and only Allardville and Saint-Sauveur workers would be hired.
Gionet does not know where the scabs are from. (The CRSC has not responded to requests by the NB Media Co-op for more information about the company contracted to provide scab labour.) Earlier in February, the City of Fredericton contracted AFIMAC Canada and brought in scabs from outside the province. However some people in Allardville are saying the scabs are from a neighbouring area. The scabs cover their faces to hide their identity as they are driven past the union members.
The board of the CRSC is made up of the mayors of the City of Bathurst, the town of Beresford, the four rural villages of Belledune, Petit-Rocher, Nigadoo, and Pointe-Verte, and volunteer chairpersons of four Local Service Districts representing dozens of rural hamlets in the Chaleur region. Families, neighbours and communities are all caught up in the situation at the landfill.
CRSC management informed CUPE that they will not return to the bargaining table until March 12, two weeks away. Claudia Gionet is a single mother. She says that the CRSC management knows everyone’s financial situation at home, how difficult it is to be off work. “We all have bills to pay, they know that,” she says. “The scabs, the injunction, it’s not fair.”
Gionet is from Saint-Sauveur and has always lived here. She recalls that in her 25 years working at the landfill, “it’s always been peaceful here.” Now she wonders: “what’s going to be the atmosphere after?”
Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op Editorial Board.