After 24 weeks locked-out of their workplace, the members of CUPE 4193 voted on July 28 to accept a new contract with their employer, the Chaleur Regional Service Commission (CRSC). The CRSC locked-out the 23 workers at the Allardville landfill south of Bathurst on February 13, creating a bitter dispute that had significant local community support for the workers.
The lockout at the Red Pine solid waste landfill servicing northern New Brunswick and the Acadian peninsula was the only lock-out of CUPE workers in the country. CUPE (the Canadian Union of Public Employees), the largest public sector union in Canada, represents more than 700,000 members, including more than 26,000 in New Brunswick.
Serge Plourde, president of CUPE 4193 and a labourer at the landfill, spoke to the NB Media Co-op on July 29 as he and other members of the local were tidying up the area of their picket set up outside the landfill gates to block the scabs (replacement workers) hired by their employer.
Plourde said the union bargaining team made no concessions at the table and received improvements in their contract language as well as a wage increase, adding “that’s the purpose of a union.” The employer had locked-out their workers after they refused to accept changes to their collective agreement covering approval of unpaid leave for union business and sick leave.
The employer withdrew their demand for changes to union leave and both sides agreed on revised wording for the sick leave clause. The collective agreement had expired in December 2017 and the new contract covers five years ending in 2022.
Forcing the employer to remove their demand for changes to union leave was a significant win, and necessary to fight off future attacks on unions in the province, Plourde said. “It sends a strong message that unions will stand up for the rights of their members, it’s a win for everyone.”
The final round of negotiations began on July 15, the day after about 120 community members attended a meeting in rural Allardville in support of the workers. More than 60 residents led a walk to the gates of the landfill where they rallied to ask their local political representatives to end the dispute and recognize their right to have a landfill staffed by local workers.
Plourde credits the win to the strong support by members of the local community as well as union locals and leaders across the province and country, including CUPE national leaders. During the dispute, community members packed several public meetings in support of the workers and lobbied their local political representatives, board members of the CLSC, as well as the local MLAs.
Plourde thanked all the local community members and union locals who demonstrated support and provided donations of food and funds during the long dispute and made it possible to “hold the [picket] line until the end.” The workers will be back on the job after the New Brunswick Day holiday.
Plourde said the next battle for unions in the province is to have anti-scab legislation passed in the Legislature, to prevent similar long labour disruptions in future. Legislation to ban so-called “replacement workers” was introduced by Green Party MLA Kevin Arseneau in June and supported by CUPE and the New Brunswick Federation of Labour.
Read all the NB Media Co-op stories about CUPE local 4193 here.
Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board.