Nfld. & Labrador

Labour turf war erupts in Marystown as questions continue about privacy breach

A labour turf war has erupted at the Grieg NL aquaculture construction site in Marystown as questions continue about a troubling privacy breach.

Grieg employee leading effort to affiliate workers with union called CLAC, with vow to protect local jobs

Jamie Cull, an employee at the Grieg NL construction site in Marystown, is leading an effort to have workers represented by a union called CLAC, which does not currently have jurisdiction in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Submitted by Jamie Cull )

The labour turmoil at the Grieg NL construction site in Marystown has taken an unexpected — and controversial — twist, with details emerging Wednesday about a competing certification drive to represent workers on the massive aquaculture project.

The new entry — known as CLAC, it was formerly the Christian Labour Association of Canada — is already playing hardball, accusing Local 579 of the carpenters union of harassing and intimidating workers in its bid to become the bargaining agent. CLAC is also suggesting local workers will be left out in the cold if they support the carpenters union.

CLAC does not have a presence in Newfoundland and Labrador, but is familiar to those who have rotational jobs in provinces such as Alberta.

It's the latest twist in a saga that began earlier this week when it was revealed that digital copies of Local 579 union cards signed by some workers at the site were turned over to their employer by the Labour Relations Board, in violation of a rule that requires those cards remain confidential.

The breach has drawn sharp condemnation from the labour movement and opposition politicians, with calls for an independent investigation to determine how the breach of privacy occurred.

A breach of privacy by the province's Labour Relations Board is causing concern among members of the Newfoundland and Labrador carpenters union. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The labour board has so far refused to offer an explanation.

But with questions still swirling about the union card controversy, another player has emerged to thicken the plot.

Employee leads effort for alternate union

An employee at the site, Jamie Cull, is leading a competing effort to have workers represented by CLAC, which is well established in central and western Canada but does not have jurisdiction in this province.

After two days of headlines about the union card scandal, Cull issued a press release Wednesday, accusing Local 579 of "old-style recruiting tactics," including repeated phone calls and visits to the homes of workers.

"Some have stated that their benefits were threatened if they didn't sign cards," said Cull.

In a phone interview, Cull claimed that 87 per cent of construction workers on the project, nearly 150 in all, signed a letter last week to the Labour Relations Board asking that CLAC be recognized in the province.

It's Cull's plan to establish a union local that represents all workers — not just carpenters — at the site, and have it affiliated with CLAC.

He says support for CLAC is far greater than it is for Local 579.

Mike Williams is regional manager of the Atlantic Canada Council of Carpenters, Millwrights and Allied Workers, which includes Local 579 of the carpenters union. He is based in Paradise. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Cull said workers do not have confidence that local jobs will be protected if they are represented by the carpenters union, which has a membership of some 3,000 people, with only a handful of card-carrying members working at the Grieg site. 

If Local 579 becomes the bargaining agent, Cull said workers fear that seniority callback rules will result in workers from outside the area taking most of the jobs.

'Most people want to save their jobs'

To counteract that, Cull plans to form an association affiliated with CLAC that he says will protect local jobs.

"I walked in one day and got 87 per cent. Most of people want to save their jobs. They want to work home," said Cull, who worked in western Canada for 15 years and is an active member of CLAC.

Cull said he has the full support of his union.

"I have access to their lawyers, collective agreements and bargaining tools."

According to its website, CLAC was established in 1952 and represents more than 60,000 members who work in construction, education, emergency services, health care and other sectors.

The union's philosophy promotes "co-operation and mutual respect" as a means of creating better workplaces.

Meanwhile, it's been learned that a certification vote for Local 579 will take place by mail-in vote on Sept. 22. 

Mike Williams, Atlantic Canada manager for the carpenters, millwrights and allied workers union, was not available for comment Wednesday afternoon.

An official with Greig NL said the company has to be cautious about commenting on labour issues, since the matter is now before the Labour Relations Board.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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