Nfld. & Labrador

Day 12 of lockout at Atlantic Minerals operation, with no end in sight

Many locked-out workers are concerned about the lack of a paycheque so close to Christmas, but Atlantic Minerals says an agreement is easily achievable.

Workers worry about lack of pay so close to Christmas season

The union is asking for a 25 per cent wage increase for its workers at the Atlantic Minerals Ltd. operation in Lower Cove, but the company says it can't sustain that high of a pay increase. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Truck drivers and heavy equipment operators are into their second week of a lockout at Atlantic Minerals Limited at the Lower Cove site, on Newfoundland's Port au Port Peninsula.

Many on the picket line are worried about the lack of a paycheque so close to Christmas.

We hope it doesn't last too long. We hope their families survive.- Peter Fenwick

But Atlantic Minerals Ltd. said it had no choice but to lock out its employees because their request for higher wages is unreasonable.

On Nov. 11, Atlantic Minerals locked out 130 unionized employees, saying a potential strike at its Lower Cove quarry means the company cannot guarantee to customers that its products will be delivered on time.

This week, employees remain on the picket lines outside the quarry entrance gates. Some of the workers typically receive a layoff notice by this time of the year, because the mine is a seasonal operation.

Workers at the Atlantic Minerals have been locked out at the front entrance of the Lower Cove operation since Nov. 11. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

A lockout means the workers are not eligible for the Employment Assistance program, and workers are frustrated they will only get a small strike payout from the union.

"This is going to be extremely unfortunate because the strike pay, whatever that is going to be, is probably not what they would normally get with the EI program," said Cape St. George Mayor Peter Fenwick.

'We hope it doesn't last too long'

Fenwick is hopeful workers in his community, and the surrounding area, are able to come to some kind of agreement with the company.

What they are looking for is a considerable increase and we just can't sustain that.- Rob Kenny

"I understand there is a possibility of some offers being made one way or the other. Hopefully they will find some sort of a compromise and agreement that's satisfactory to all parties," said Fenwick.

"From the perspective of the general community, there is a lot of support for them we hope they do well. We hope it doesn't last too long. We hope their families survive."

Cape St. George Mayor Peter Fenwick says a lockout is bad news for workers in the region, who are getting ready for the holiday season. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

In the meantime, the quarrel between union and the company has deterred business, according to Rob Kenny, human resources manager with Atlantic Minerals.

'This company cannot sustain that'

According to Kenny, big shipping companies do not want to travel to Lower Cove and load products, and run the risk of having their ships get stuck at port there if workers decided to strike.

"Once they found out there was a risk of a lockout or a strike they can't sail from another part of the world to our port only to be turned away and we are stuck with the expenses," said Kenny.

Rob Kenny says Atlantic Minerals is losing business, because companies won't send their ships in and risk getting stuck if workers strike. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

The union and the company have not come to an agreement because of wages, as the union has requested a 25 per cent wage increase.

According to the collective agreement between Atlantic Minerals Ltd. and International Union of Operating Engineers, a heavy equipment operator made $26.80 in 2014 and $27.80 in 2015.

Kenny said the company feels a 25 per cent increase is much too high.

"What they are looking for is a considerable increase and we just can't sustain that. This company cannot sustain that," said Kenny.

A conciliator is now on board, but no agreement has been reached as the lockout continues.

About the Author

Colleen Connors reports on western Newfoundland from CBC's bureau in Corner Brook.