New Brunswick

Covered Bridge owner should be pulled from TV ad, labour group says

A New Brunswick labour leader says the provincial government should withdraw a TV commercial that includes the owner of the Covered Bridge Potato Chip Company, where workers are on strike.

New Brunswick Federation of Labour says province should be 'embarrassed' to have Ryan Albright in TV ad

Covered Bridge Potato Chips president Ryan Albright is featured in an Opportunities New Brunswick advertisement. (Opportunities NB/YouTube)

A New Brunswick labour leader says the provincial government should withdraw a television commercial that includes the owner of the Covered Bridge Potato Chip Company, where workers are on strike.

The ad features Ryan Albright along with other business leaders extolling the virtues of creating jobs in New Brunswick.

"I'm NB Proud," Albright says to the camera, using the province's slogan.

Unionized workers at Covered Bridge Potato Chips near Hartland walked off the job on Tuesday. (CBC)
But Patrick Colford, the president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, says including Albright in the ad sends the wrong message while his workers are walking a picket line.

"Quite frankly if I were the government, I'd be quite embarrassed," Colford said.

"I'd be pulling those ads until this labour dispute was over and done with."

"It's definitely a black eye for this government to be propping up a company that's violating labour relations acts and treating its workers the way that Mr. Albright has been treating his workers up there."

Violated act

Last August, the New Brunswick Employment and Labour Board ruled that Albright had violated the Industrial Relations Act, the law that governs the collective bargaining process.

The board said Albright offered workers inducements if they didn't support the union. It also said he shut down the plant one day to hold a meeting with employees to "coerce them" to give up their union membership, a move the board called "absolutely inappropriate."

Under the law, employers are not allowed to influence how workers vote as union members.

Opportunities New Brunswick said in a written statement Wednesday. the commercials, which are also shown in movie theatres, were "developed and filmed in early summer 2015," before the labour board ruling.

The agency would not comment on whether it's appropriate to include Albright given the strike.

"The #NBProud campaign showcases New Brunswick's strengths and successes through its businesses and people," the statement said.

"#NBProud has resonated with New Brunswickers, with thousands of likes and shares on social media, as well as inspiring New Brunswickers to tweet and post about what makes them proud."

Some at minimum wage

Employees on the picket line say the company pays minimum wage, which they say is not enough for a decent livelihood.

One employee said she had received a 10-cent raise in the almost-five years she has worked at the company.

The 32 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1288P have been in a legal strike position since June. Some workers have crossed the picket line to continue producing chips. (CBC)
A union representative said some other workers received five-cent raises, only to see them absorbed into a legally required minimum wage increase imposed by the government.

The workers are also seeking seniority protection for layoffs and for shift scheduling.

In a statement Tuesday, the company said only 17 of 90 employees earn minimum wage.

It also said only 10 people on the picket line Monday were unionized workers, and the rest were supporters or union officials. It said 24 of 34 employees crossed the picket line to work on Monday.

In an earlier statement Monday, the company called the strike "a small bump in the road." It defended how workers are treated and said chip production would continue at the plant.


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.