More than a dozen workers at Sterling Fuels in Windsor have been temporarily laid off after the employees complained about a dock safety strategy that is supposed to protect them while on the job, according to the union. 

A total of 14 full-time and part-time employees have been suspended after a worker refused to work on the dock out of concern over "eye wash stations, showers ... and a rescue boat," explained Mike D'Agnolo, vice president at Unifor Local 444.

The company said it owns a boat, but it isn't in the water because the company has been focusing on updating the docks to keep employees from falling.

"We see it as a body recovery plan they have in place and we want a rescue plan," said D'Agnolo, who added workers still don't feel safe.

The work stoppage is currently in its third week, according to Sterling Fuels manager of health, safety and environment Joel Gardner, who confirmed a federal inspector from Employment and Social Development Canada had been called in to investigate.

"We just had no choice but to send some of the people that were there for refueling home because we haven't refueled ship in going on three weeks," he said. "There just isn't enough work."

Work stoppage has 'major' financial impact

The financial impact on the company has been "major," Gardner added, but declined to comment on whether or not the company is considering ending operations in Windsor after the latest issue with workers.

"This has sort of become a pattern and we're getting more and more concerned," he said. "Every time we put some controls in place they're either not good enough or there's still an issue with it." 

The work stoppage is the latest in a series of conflicts between the company and its staff over safety that started after union members stopped work at the petroleum company in March 2016.

One year later, Unifor leaders were joined by local politicians to decry the "tragedy waiting to happen" at Sterling's site on the city's west end after an inspection by Windsor Fire and Rescue Services resulted in more than 30 orders for repairs.

Sterling Fuels Ltd. Windsor

Sterling Fuels Ltd. has between 30 and 60 days to comply with more than 30 orders from the Windsor Fire Department. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

D'Agnolo said he's hopeful the inspector's report will be completed by the week. All 16 workers represented by the union will soon be back to their posts.

The company is also eagerly awaiting the inspection's completion, according to Gardener who said Sterling's first priority is safety, but the constant struggle with staff is making things complicated.

"It's becoming more and more difficult for sure," he said.  "We're not sure how to move forward on this, but we certainly want to."