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Unifor looks into alleged union-busting in oilsands company firings

Unifor is looking into allegations that six workers at CNRL's Jackfish location south of Fort McMurray were fired for trying to organize a union.

'I've never been told they weren't happy with my performance'

CNRL's Horizon Mine. Unifor is looking into allegations that six employees were fired at the company's Jackfish site for trying to organize a union. (CNRL)

Unifor is looking into allegations that six workers at a Canadian Natural Resources Limited site south of Fort McMurray were fired for trying to organize a union.

According to Unifor, six men employed at CNRL's Jackfish site were terminated on Oct. 23 without cause. All six were involved in trying to organize a union through Unifor.

"We do have some suspicions that this was likely part of their terminations," said Kellie Scanlan, director of organizing for Unifor Canada. Unifor is Canada's largest private sector union, with more than 315,000 members across the country.

Under Alberta's Labour Relations Code, all employees have the right to collective bargaining with their employers. 

CNRL bought the Jackfish oilsands operation from Devon Canada Corporation in June 2019.

Alan Evans, 66, had worked at that site since 2012. 

"I've never been told they weren't happy with my performance," said Evans, who has been a millwright for about 50 years.

Evans said he flew home to Ladysmith, B.C., on Oct. 17 and was expecting to go back to work for his next shift a week later.  

While Evans was at home, another employee from CNRL asked if he would carry cards and be a contact for employees to approach if they wanted to support the union. 

He agreed to do it and then started hearing rumours. 

"I heard the stuff that was going on, like posters were going up in support of the union, they were being torn down and the company was putting up their side," Evans said. "It was hearsay and the next thing I know … I get a call and they're terminating me. Me and five others."

Alan Evans, 66, says he and five other employees had their jobs terminated. (Submitted by Alan Evans)

"I think it's pretty obvious what happened, to anybody looking from the inside or outside."

He said the firing has put him in a tough situation. He had planned on retiring within about two years. 

"I can't get a job at 66½," said Evans. "It's very stressful, we're not happy about it at all. I'm not happy about the way it was all handled and the consideration of people at that age, to just dump them."

Scanlan said there are a few options Unifor can take if the investigation finds that the employees were wrongfully dismissed, including filing a complaint with the labour board and getting the workers their jobs back until the investigation is over.

"Imagine people are fired, they have kids they have families, they have houses. They go to work every day, they have clean work records …  and because they spoke to the union they no longer have a job. That to me should really make people's heads turn," she said. 

CNRL declined an interview with CBC News but sent a statement.

 "Canadian Natural respects the legal rights of its employees to collectively bargain, if they so choose," the company said in an email. 

"For privacy reasons, we decline to comment on employment matters." 

Scanlan anticipates Unifor's probe into the matter will take about a week. 

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