As New Brunswick rallies to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, the Chaleur Regional Service Commission (CRSC) and their new negotiator from Fredericton are taking advantage of the pandemic emergency to escalate and extend a labour dispute with CUPE.
Yesterday, the day the government declared a state of emergency, the CRSC posted a notice on its website to hire scabs (“temporary workers”) to fill the positions held by the CUPE Local 4193 members they locked out from the Allardville landfill. Until yesterday, the CUPE members formed a picket at the landfill that could block scab labour but CUPE removed the picket so members would not have to congregate together during the COVID-19 crisis, respecting the government directive.
The labour dispute at the Red Pine solid waste landfill servicing northeastern New Brunswick has been escalating since Feb. 12 when the CRSC issued a lockout notice to the 23 CUPE members at the landfill. Several days later the CRSC attempted to bring in scabs to replace them. After the CUPE members on the picket blocked the scabs from entering, the CRSC obtained an injunction on Feb. 21 to limit the picket to six CUPE members. Now with the CUPE picket gone and locked-out members staying home to comply with the government COVID-19 directive, the CRSC is openly advertising to hire scabs to replace them.
CUPE Local 4193 President Serge Plourde, a labourer at the landfill, spoke to the NB Media Co-op the same day he saw his job advertised by his employer. Plourde says the 23 members locked-out of their worksite are being “treated like garbage” by the CRSC whose board members are the mayors of Belledune, Bathurst, Petit-Rocher, Pointe-Verte, Beresford, Nigadoo and four LSD representatives from the region.
Plourde said that behaving as if the Allardville workers are not their problem, like they treat their garbage sent to the landfill, adds further insult to the position taken by these community leaders. The workers find it difficult to understand the level of disrespect shown by the CRSC board members.
Plourde said he was very disappointed that these community leaders have not intervened in the labour dispute, especially after the union presented two options to the CRSC in an attempt to resolve the present impasse. The collective agreement expired in December 2017.
The first option presented by CUPE earlier this week required the employer to end the lockout so the workers could return to their jobs while negotiations were ongoing. With the current health crisis facing New Brunswick, the workers were trying to respectfully help restore a sense of community and support to everyone affected by the lockout by this option.
The second option was to engage in intensive negotiations to resolve the issues on the table so that the workers could return to their jobs as quickly as possible.
Instead of working together with the CUPE proposals, on March 18 the CUPE negotiating team received a letter from the CRSC indicating that their team would be led by a new negotiator from Fredericton and restating the employer’s original three demands from their first 2018 proposal to the union.
These three demands include the employer having discretion to ask for a doctor’s note on the first sick day taken and to limit the number of unpaid union leave days taken by worker representatives. It was after the union refused to discuss these demands that the employer issued the lockout notice, a move considered unprecedented by CUPE leaders.
The union team’s lead negotiator, Robert Le Moignan, CUPE National Representative, told the NB Media Co-op he was frustrated with the “dictatorial” behaviour of the employer. The notice of a new negotiator who speaks only English while all the proposals are in French and the CUPE team are francophones adds another obstacle for the workers. The lawyer’s letter ignores the negotiations already completed on some of the items under discussion, demonstrating a complete lack of respect for the workers and their union representatives, he said.
Just a week earlier, on March 12, when negotiations were scheduled to begin after four weeks of being locked out, the union agreed to postpone their first meeting out of respect for the employer due to a death in their community.
At the rally in Belledune on the same day, CUPE Local 4193 members felt the strong support of the CUPE leaders and other local members who were able to attend this event. Later that afternoon, CUPE presented the deputy mayor of Belledune, Sandenn Killoran, the petition signed by 1,200 community members from across the region calling for an end to the lockout. KIlloran said he would take the petition to his council and he encouraged the workers to keep up the fight for justice, according to Serge Plourde.
Plourde is now asking community members everywhere to call and write the board members of the Chaleur Regional Service Commission demanding an end to this lockout and protesting hiring scabs. There is an online petition that everyone is invited to sign at https://4193.scfp.ca/ where more information about this lockout can be found in addition to the other stories available on the NB Media Coop site. Cash donations to assist the 23 workers trying to pay their bills during the COVID-19 crisis are welcomed.
Brian Beaton is a writer and the calendar coordinator for the NB Media Co-op.