Nova Scotia

Spat with unionized carpenters slows down opening of Cape Breton Farmers' Market

The market's manager says it wasn't in the budget to hire a unionized contractor and that decision has led to 'a lot of pushback.'

'You know it's unfortunate that they've chosen to boycott us, they've been very vocal on social media'

The renovation work to transform the former Smooth Herman's bar into the new home of the Cape Breton Farmers' Market is gradually nearing completion. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

An ongoing fight between the Cape Breton Farmers' Market and a carpenters union has slowed down renovations at the market's new location on Charlotte Street in Sydney, says the facility's manager.  

At the heart of the dispute is the market's decision not to hire unionized workers to complete the renos.

Market manager Pauline Singer said that move upset the Atlantic Canada Regional Council of Carpenters, Millwrights and Allied Workers and resulted in "a lot of pushback."

"You know it's unfortunate that they've chosen to boycott us, they've been very vocal on social media, and we've also had people that have refused to work for us that were specialized in certain [areas] that we needed because they were unionized," she said.

The market has moved from its longtime location on Keltic Drive to the former Smooth Herman's bar.

The union made it clear it wasn't happy with the market's decision to overhaul the space using a non-unionized contractor, but Singer said the facility simply couldn't afford unionized labour.

Singer hopes the farmers market will be able to open its doors by the end of February. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

"It's a difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars that we just don't have," she said. "We don't get funded provincially, we don't get money from the municipality, we pay our own bills. It's not anti-union, it's just the reality of what our fiscal situation is." 

The market received $985,000 from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to establish the new location. Singer said the money from ACOA was also needed for lawyers, architects and engineers. 

No one from the union responded to several requests for comment from CBC. 

Rough renos

During the course of the renovations, workers also encountered unexpected problems with the heating and wiring, as the building had been vacant for 10 years. 

"I mean we're in here ourselves painting and staining and lugging stuff and moving things," said Singer. "We're working hand in hand with the contractor to alleviate some of those costs." 

When completed, the Saturday market will be home to around 50 vendors selling crafts and other products, along with an eating area featuring 13 food vendors. 

Kathy MacCuish, owner of Quilted Chaos, said she looks forward to selling her quilted items from their new market home, which will have better temperature control and a new ventilation system.

"At the old location, I used to have to take my products home with me every week and air them out because they were full of the smell of cooking," said MacCuish. "Now I won't have to do that."

Pauline Singer (left) is the manager of the Cape Breton Farmers' Market. Kathy MacCuish (right) is a vendor at the market. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

Each of the vendors at the new market will have their own stall fashioned to their individual needs.

"It'll be a real boon to the downtown and for the vendors," said MacCuish. 

Singer said vendors and customers are excited to get the market up and running.

"Just keeping our fingers crossed that we can make this happen by the end of February," she said.

About the Author

From people around the corner to those around the world, Norma Jean MacPhee has more than a decade of experience telling their stories on the radio, TV and online. Reach Norma Jean at norma.jean.macphee@cbc.ca

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