'Disbelief' for D-J Composites worker who was laid off after contract fight

The lockout at DJ Composites — the longest in Newfoundland and Labrador history, according to Unifor — hasn't ended for some former workers of the aerospace plant.

Maureen Reid is next in line, but speaking out

Maureen Reid is sharpening her resume and looking, once again, for work. She has three children who live with her and her partner in Gander. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The lockout at D-J Composites — the longest in Newfoundland and Labrador history, according to Unifor — hasn't ended for some former workers of the aerospace plant.

The new work agreement — reached Nov. 29 after both sides agreed to binding arbitration — has seen 14 union members return to work at the factory, according to Unifor's Atlantic Canada director, Lana Payne. 

There were 32 unionized workers in the plant when the lockout began, and although some have left the company, more are left wondering if they'll ever get a call back.

It's like we were thrown to the curb.- Maureen Reid

"I'm really in disbelief on how this has all turned out," said Maureen Reid, who worked on the plant floor for 16 years.

"I never imagined it would turn out this way. I thought there would have been jobs for us all, or if not jobs for us all, at least we would have gotten pay in lieu of notice to at least get us through."

During a blockade at the factory in September, Unifor covered the logos of D-J Composites with flags and signs of their own. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Reid is next up on the recall list — meaning she should be first in line if the company decides to bring on more workers. But she says that doesn't help her pay bills and support her family.

"No job, no income, no EI, no benefits. It's like we were thrown to the curb," she said.

Arbitrator sided with company

D-J Composites locked out its workers in December 2016, immediately after the union took a strike vote. Almost two years later, in November 2018, both sides went to a binding arbitration.

​That was after Unifor members from across the country blockaded the entrance to the Gander factory.

The dispute went to a final offer selection, where arbitrator John McEvoy selected the D-J Composites proposal — which brings between 13 and 16 people back to work — over Unifor's.

I can't invent work in the facility, as much as I would like to.- Lana Payne

"Local 597's [return to work] proposal mandates a minimum recall of 20 employees with no consideration of the extra costs imposed on the employer for the extra employees — each of them guaranteed paid employment for a minimum of 120 days," McEvoy wrote in his decision.

"Such details … limit [D-J Composites's] ability to implement a smooth return to work," he wrote.

Payne said there was no way Unifor Local 597 could have avoided job cuts: She said the company wanted layoffs as early as 2017, and no argument in front of the arbitrator would have brought everyone back.

"That would have been rejected right out of hand by the arbitrator," she said. "Our job, as I said … was to minimize the layoffs. But this is an employer who hasn't had much work in the facility, as I said, so that's kind of tough to do, to avoid any layoffs." 

In September, hundreds of Unifor members from across Canada were brought to Gander to blockade the entrance of the D-J Composites plant in Gander. (CBC News)

In an email, Ivano Andriani — a consultant who was the company's lead negotiator in contract talks — said D-J Composites has already exceeded the minimum requirements for how many workers to recall, and more will come.

"We will recall more staff as needed to support production requirements as business improves," he wrote. "Several staff chose not to return."

'Out in the cold'

Even so, Reid said she feels that she's been thrown out — and others agree with her.

"A lot of people are really upset," she said. "Everybody feels we were thrown out in the cold after it was all said and done." 

It just seems really unfair to me, that a big union like Unifor couldn't help [the laid off] people to aid them for a month or two.- Maureen Reid

Her situation is aggravated because she can't qualify for EI — she was off for a long-term disability for months, and returned to work just a few weeks before the lockout began, so she doesn't have enough insurable hours.

Reid, who worked for 16 years at the D-J Composites plant in Gander, says she's not sure whether she will face any negative repercussions for speaking out about her layoff. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Unifor has filed a grievance against D-J Composites, alleging the company did not provide adequate notice for the layoffs made after the collective agreement was signed; Reid said she is owed six weeks' pay, and if the company is reluctant to provide it, her union should loan her the money.

"I think it would have been fair," she said. "It just seems really unfair to me, that a big union like Unifor couldn't help [the laidoff] people to aid them for a month or two, after it was all said and done, until they got on their feet somewhere."

That proposal caught Payne by surprise, who said it would be "frankly unheard of."

"We have a collective agreement in place now. The money from the union can't continue after you have a collective agreement in place. That's the reality. This is the policy of the union. If we were to do this everywhere, you wouldn't have a strike and defence fund for very long."

D-J Composites wouldn't comment on the grievance.

Lack of work the problem: Payne

Payne said she understands the frustrations from former employees who haven't been called back, but says there's no magic bullet, and there wasn't a workable alternative.

"The alternative would have been disastrous; nobody would have had the job in the facility," she said, adding arbitration was the only way to end the dispute.

"I completely understand people's frustrations.… I can't invent work in the facility, as much as I would like to."

Lana Payne speaks at a rally at the D-J Composites plant on Sept. 26. Payne says it's hard to know for sure how many former employees are counting on a call from the company, because some are looking for other jobs. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

She said the union's now focused on working alongside the company to increase work orders and contracts at the company, which makes helicopter parts and exteriors.

"At the heart of this challenge that we've had from them from the beginning, has been around a lack of work orders in the facility, she said.

"That was probably one of the reasons the employer was able to sustain the lockout for so long, is that they actually didn't have a lot of work happening in the plant."

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About the Author

Garrett Barry

Journalist

Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.

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