Nfld. & Labrador

Unifor expands pickets from D-J Composites to government offices in lockout

Union representatives moved their pressure from the picket line to government offices in the second day of a mega-rally at Gander's D-J Composites.

Union head Jerry Dias rallied workers on picket line Thursday morning

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

Union members took to the offices of two MHAs in central Newfoundland on Thursday morning, marking the second day of a mega-rally in support of locked-out employees of D-J Composites.

Unifor sent workers for sit-ins at Gander MHA and Health Minister John Haggie's office, and the office of Al Hawkins, the provincial minister of labour.

"We're here as long as it takes," said Lana Payne, a director with Unifor. "We said this yesterday, we said it last week, we said it a month ago that we were going to be escalating our defence of these 30 workers."

Payne said the union was simply responding to "escalation" by D-J Composites, and wasn't being unfairly aggressive.

"What's aggressive is 647 days on a picket line for 30 workers here in Gander."

Chris MacDonald, assistant to Unifor national president Jerry Dias, was one of the union representatives in Haggie's office.

He said his group was able to speak with Haggie on the phone, and has since left that office.

"We insisted that the minister call D-J Composites and insist that they co-operate," he said.

Jerry Dias questions where Premier Ball is when it comes to helping locked-out workers 0:28

In an emailed statement from the president of the Pragmatic Group of Companies — a labour relations and human resources company contracted to negotiate on behalf of D-J Composites —Ivano Andriani said the aerospace company is always open for negotiations.

"[We] were actively preparing communication to Unifor when the illegal picket line activity commenced," he wrote.

"We are currently more consumed in operational issues of supporting the U.S. warfighter over attempting to negotiate with thugs. We are prepared to return to the bargaining table, but only after the knife is removed from our throat."

The union, meanwhile, has sent a new letter to the company, asking for an agreement to start a binding arbitration process.

We are prepared to return to the bargaining table, but only after the knife is removed from our throat.- Ivano Andriani

It has also asked Premier Dwight Ball, Hawkins and Haggie to contact the company and pressure officials to agree.

"We're insisting that the premier and the two ministers actually step in and play a leading role here," MacDonald said.

Dias delivered a fiery speech Thursday morning in front of the plant, chanting that Ball was "useless."

"I'm saying that out of a complete lack of respect, because of the complete lack of respect you have shown these 30 families," Dias said.

The union has repeatedly asked that government officials intervene in the lockout, to order binding arbitration.

The workers have been locked out for 92 weeks.

"The noise you hear in the background is a search and rescue helicopter, we've sent them out to look for Premier Ball," Dias joked at the start of the speech.

Unifor representatives say they have shut down the D-J Composites plant with their reinforced picket line, and will stop anyone from crossing — in defiance of a court order from 2017 that demands the union local let people pass.

"The premier is saying to D-J Composites, 'Listen, don't worry about labour laws,'" Dias said. "And if D-J Composites doesn't have to worry about the laws here, neither does Unifor."

Dias admitted this week's escalating actions should have been done sooner, but defended Unifor's actions in the dispute. He said the union isn't to blame for the 647-day lockout.

"We have tried everything, every legal channel, through the courts, through everything, to try to get this thing fixed."

Storm the office

Union representatives requested to meet with Hawkins, but once at his office they came up empty-handed. Eventually, Hawkins called them and listened to their grievances.

"We did have a good conversation. We were asking for the government, and particularly for the minister of labour, to play a role," said Jenny Ahn, representing Unifor. 

Unifor protestors protest in Grand Falls-Windsor on Thursday, demanding a conversation with Al Hawkins, the province's minister of labour. ( Leigh Anne Power/CBC)

"We've seen this with other governments playing a role when there has been a dispute, putting the parties together for binding arbitration, and we asked him to play that role. To show his leadership, as well as for the premier of this province, to show that leadership, to bring D-J Composites and Unifor together."

Hawkins told the representatives that he will encourage both sides to get back to the bargaining table, but Ahn said that just isn't good enough. 

"This is not an early or a short dispute," she said.

"We told him that he should force the parties to be involved, to find that settlement, or force the parties to binding arbitration. Enough is enough."           

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About the Author

Garrett Barry

Journalist

Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.