Locked-out D-J Composites employees mark bleak anniversary with rally in St. John's

Locked out workers at D-J Composites aerospace company in Gander rallied at the foot of Confederation Building as they face a second Christmas on the picket line.

Union files yet another bad-faith bargaining complaint against American employer

Locked-out workers with D-J Composites in Gander and their union leaders assembled outside Confederation Building in St. John's Tuesday, on the one-year anniversary of their labour dispute. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

After travelling nearly 350 kilometres, some 30 locked-out workers with D-J Composites in Gander stepped off a bus in St. John's Tuesday to chants of, "One day longer, one day stronger."

Forming up in front of Confederation Building, the workers stepped into the spotlight after a year-long dispute with the American-based owners of their company.

Carolyn Wrice (left) and Iggy Oram are union leaders with Unifor local 597, which represents locked-out workers at D-J Composites in Gander. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"The stress that this has put on the members in the back here — it's been unbelievable," Iggy Oram, bargaining unit chair with Unifor local 597, told a gathering that included other labour leaders who offered support.

Desperate for a resolution

With the prospect of spending a second Christmas on the picket line, Unifor is ramping up its campaign.

And it's not just the company that in its sights.

The labour laws in this province have proven to be completely ineffective when dealing with employers who are intent on busting unions.- Lana Payne, Unifor

"This government right now that has done nothing to help this problem," said Oram, who called on the provincial government to tighten labour laws.

"The labour laws in this province have proven to be completely ineffective when dealing with employers who are intent on busting unions," echoed Lana Payne, Atlantic regional director with Unifor.

Labour tension boiled over

D-J Composites is a Kansas-based aerospace manufacturing company that purchased the Gander operation five years ago.

The union said there has been labour tension ever since, but the situation boiled over a year ago when the company locked out 32 workers after they voted to strike.

Every attempt to find a resolution has failed, including mediation and a ruling by the labour relations board that the company had engaged in bad-faith bargaining.

Unifor also announced Tuesday that it has filed a second complaint with the labour relations board.

"This can only be seen as union busting," Payne said.

"D-J's owner, Rezaul Chowdhury, seems to be doing everything he can to try and divide the members and get rid of the union in this workplace. However, angry members will spend another Christmas in the cold more united than ever," she added.

Unifor has accused the company of trying to strip workers of their wages, seniority rights and even their right to unionize.

Renewed energy

Some workers admitted that morale has sagged in recent months, but felt renewed energy following Tuesday's rally, which included thousands in donations from other unions.

"This rally today is really what we needed," said Donna Fretwell, a resident of Horwood who has worked at D-J Composites for 14 years.

Will Davis of Glovertown says locked-out workers with D-J Composites in Gander are in the fight of their lives. He's pictured here with his daughter, Ashley. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Will Davis of Glovertown brought along his daughter Ashley, who is attending college in St. John's.

Davis said the workers are in the "fight of their lives" and he's staying strong for his daughter and future generations of workers.

"It's hard on families, and she's seen what I'm going through. And my wife. And my son. Enough is enough," said Davis.

Attempts to speak with representatives of D-J Composites were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, the Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour Labour issued the following statement:

"Labour legislation must balance the rights of employees and employers, and the current legislation provides this balance."

According to the statement, the department has taken steps to help end the labour dispute, including conciliation and mediation, but without success.

"The department will continue to monitor the situation and services remain available to assist the parties should they wish to avail of them," it reads.