A 24-hour picket by union members ends this morning outside the Red Pine solid waste landfill in Allardville south of Bathurst. Serge Plourde, president of CUPE 4193 said his members mounted the picket to mark three months since their employer, the Chaleur Regional Service Commission (CRSC), locked them out of their workplace. The rural landfill services the entire northeast region of the province.
The Allardville situation is the only CUPE lockout in the country. CUPE – the Canadian Union of Public Employees – is the largest public sector union in Canada, with more than 700,000 members across the country including more than 26,000 in New Brunswick.
Since the CRSC locked out the 23 workers from the landfill on February 13, the CUPE members have been earning strike pay of only $300 weekly plus donations from other union locals in New Brunswick and across the country. Local businesses and residents were also donating food to the workers before the COVID-19 crisis forced an end to the picket on March 20 to comply with the government’s emergency directive.
CUPE NB president Brien Watson posted a video message of solidarity yesterday with the CUPE 4193 workers. He pointed out that the union team has been trying to get the employer to end the lockout, allow the workers to return to their jobs, and resolve the dispute when the crisis is over. However, “this atrocious employer still refuses to do so,” said Watson.
“This is a bad situation,” Watson added. He encouraged everyone in the Allardville area to drive by the landfill to show support for the workers.
The NB Media Co-op has filed numerous stories in the last three months about the CUPE 4193 situation. Shortly after the lockout, the CRSC employer hired scabs (replacement workers) to keep the landfill open. When the CUPE picket blocked the scabs, the employer obtained a court injunction to limit the picket to six members.
The CRSC is a regional governance body that brings together the elected leaders of the City of Bathurst and small towns, villages and rural communities in the region. Their action and attitude toward the workers has caused considerable distress and financial hardship and outrage by union leaders.
At the same time, the local community has rallied in support of the locked-out workers. Despite the local support, the political leadership in the region has refused repeated requests to force the CRSC to bargain fairly with its workers. The management team brought in a lawyer from Fredericton with limited French-language skills to bargain with the francophone union team at the table, a move the union lead negotiator said demonstrated a complete lack of respect for the CUPE members.
The municipalities and towns across the region continue to send their waste to this landfill site to be processed by the scabs, some of whom CUPE claims are relatives of the management. The level of disrespect for the locked out workers and the Allardville community shown by community leaders and the employer is creating a very difficult environment for everyone.
CUPE 4193 members have often expressed their appreciation for the support they are receiving from other union locals and community members across the region. They are asking everyone in the region to continue urging their community leaders to end this lockout and direct the Chaleur Regional Service Commission (CRSC) to begin negotiating in good faith. The lockout will come to an end at some point. Ending it as quickly as possible is in everyone’s best interest during the pandemic.
Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board.