Nfld. & Labrador

Unifor says D-J Composites has agreed to binding arbitration

Unifor is claiming victory in Gander Wednesday evening and says D-J Composites, the company that locked out its workers 21 months ago, has agreed to binding arbitration.

Unifor recieved confirmation from premier's office Wednesday afternoon, representatives said

Ignatious Oram, Local plant chair 597, said Unifor received confirmation from Premier Dwight Ball's office Wednesday afternoon. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Unifor claimed victory in Gander Wednesday evening and says D-J Composites, the company that locked out its workers 21 months ago, has agreed to binding arbitration.

Ignatious Oram, chair of Local 597, said the union received confirmation from Premier Dwight Ball's office Wednesday afternoon after discussions between Ball and D-J Composites that the company has agreed to go to binding arbitration with Unifor.

"What that means is this lockout is going to come to an end. It's been 21 months in the making, and as far as I'm concerned it was Christmas come early for 30 locked-out members," Oram told CBC News.

But the timeline for the end of the lockout remains to be seen.

Unifor representatives told CBC News that while the large presence at the picket line will end as soon as D-J Composites signs the formal agreement to move into binding arbitration, the smaller picket line that has been in place for months will continue until a new collective agreement is arbitrated.

Further, it could take weeks or even months to reach arbitration.

Unifor union members had reason to celebrate on Wednesday as it appears their 21 month lockout from D-J Composites will soon come to an end. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

"This has been terribly hard on all of our families, your spouse, your children, and to go through almost two years with so much uncertainty, it puts a lot of pressure on your family," Oram said.

"This year we're all looking at putting that stress behind you, and enjoy some time with your family."

A fair warning

Meanwhile, the executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers' Council warns that Premier Dwight Ball wading into a labour dispute could have big consequences for other labour fights.

"The thing that is most concerning for us is opening the legislature — to involve the legislature, the power of the legislature — in a private labour dispute for non-essential workers is, and would be, unprecedented in Canadian labour relations history," said Richard Alexander.  

"This is something that is not done. It is interference in a private business and a private union's disagreement."

Ball had said on Monday — after a meeting with Unifor's national president — that reconvening the House of Assembly before its fall sitting was an option, in order to possibly through legislation that would force D-J Composites and its unionized workers into binding arbitration. 

The employees in Gander have been locked out for more than 650 days. 

Richard Alexander, executive director of the N.L. Employers Council. says a negotiated settlement is how the dispute should end. (CBC)

"Nobody would disagree that this has been a long strike, and it's quite unfortunate," said Alexander. 

"[But] the best solution to prevent labour disruptions and ensure labour peace in the future would be a negotiated agreement. Government getting involved and imposing an agreement would not solve the underlying issues. It would give an agreement that both sides are probably unhappy with."

PC Leader Ches Crosbie also weighed into the labour fight, stating in a media release, "It is time for Premier Ball to take action, immediately open up the House of Assembly, and allow debate to commence on potential solutions to this dispute."

Premier Dwight Ball said this week, 'We want to get those groups back at the table.' (CBC)

Alexander said comments like those, and by Ball, are a red flag.

"This issue is very concerning to every employer in this province, particularly unionized employers," he said. 

"What we have seen in recent days is we've seen comments from the premier and from the leader of the Opposition that have elevated this dispute and make it appear that govt and the Opposition are basically conceding to the demands of the union."

'Very aggressive'

Unifor has ramped up its pressure, flooding the picket line at the Gander building with hundreds of union members. 

D-J Composites was successful in an initial court battle this week, which will result in a contempt of court hearing against the union and Lana Payne, the Atlantic regional director for Unifor, due to the blockade of union members preventing employees from accessing the facility.

"This is a union that has been very aggressive … and by government appearing to support one side over the other, particularly the union side — by saying that opening the legislature is on the table — this is just going to encourage more actions like that," Alexander said.

Payne took issue with Alexander's comments, upon seeing the council's press release.

"My message to the N.L Employers' Council. Pound sand. 653 days on a picket line should appall even you. But of course that requires a heart," she tweeted. 

Locked-out workers lead a crowd at a union rally at D-J Composites. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

When pressed on why an arbitrator — an independent, third party — would not be sufficient to help solve the issue or wouldn't be impartial, Alexander replied, "Typically an arbitrator will give something that is very conservative, something similar to what was there before and that will not deal with the underlying issues, more than likely."

While the workers have been locked out for 93 weeks and counting, Alexander said he still believes government should stay out of it. 

"It is not in the interest of government to turn this into a political issue. It is not in the interest of the union and the employer to have somebody else to resolve this dispute for them," he said.  

"As long as it takes, we need a negotiated settlement for every labour dispute."

With files from Garrett Barry and Ryan Cooke

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