ALL FOR ONE Hundreds rally to the call to support Gander workers

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YOU CAN SEE HER CRYING ON THE VIDEO. She is clearly overwhelmed by the situation. Hundreds of strangers have come to stand shoulder to shoulder with her on the picket line in front of the D-J Composites plant in Gander, Newfoundland.

She says: “It’s just so good to see all these people coming together for us. It’s very, very touching.”

This is the human side of unions, the side the media seldom shows. It is what truly makes unions strong: the determination of everyday people to stand together for what is right and fair.

It’s why the 27 workers locked out of D-J Composites are certain they will win. It’s why hundreds came to support them on day 646 of the lockout.

Hundreds answer the union call
The locked out workers are members of Unifor Local 597. Their union put out a call for supporters to come to Gander to stand in solidarity with them on September 26. They came in their hundreds from all over Canada. Suresh Srikan and Jordan Reid were two who came from Ontario.

“We’re going to be here until Monday, and if we have to stay, we will stay longer until we get something done for our brothers. That’s why we are here,” Srikan said.

“They have families, they have children. They have to feed them, they have to help them out. We are not going to let it go. We are going to fight until the last minute. We are here to fight.”

Unifor says D-J Composites refuse to bargain in good faith. The company has twice been found guilty of violating provincial labour laws.

“They are not interested in reaching a collective agreement with us. They are only interested in busting our union. We won’t be busted,” said Lana Payne, Atlantic regional director of Unifor.

American company
wants to make its own rules
She also has a message for the Newfoundland and Labrador government.

“You need to step in here and support the workers in Gander and stop siding with a U.S. employer who is breaking labour laws throughout the province.”

The Kansas-based D-J Composites purchased the aircraft components plant in 2012. The company locked out the workers in December 2016 when the workers refused to accept company demands to slash wages and reduce seniority rights.

The company keeps operations going with replacement workers. Some recruited locally with newspaper ads and some brought in from Kansas.

It’s an action that does not sit well in the larger Gander community, where people opened their homes to Americans stranded in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the USA.

The company “should swallow their pride and accept the terms and accept the fact they are in another country,” said Ignatious Oram, Unifor plant chairperson. “It’s a unionized shop, and if you want to continue doing business here, you have to take the terms and conditions of the employment.”

Union looks for binding arbitration
“This all could have ended a long time ago with binding arbitration,” says Jerry Dias, Unifor national president. If we had anti-scab legislation, this could have been done 647 days ago,” he said.

Binding arbitration “jumpstarts the conversation,” says Dias, “because if we can’t reach an agreement, then a third party will make the terms and conditions and both sides are bound to that decision.”

Premier Dwight Ball says he considered calling for binding arbitration but decided  the timing was not right for it.

Dias scoffed at the reasoning. “Six hundred and forty-seven days they have been locked out, and (the provincial government doesn’t) think the timing is right yet. Are you kidding?”

Ignatious Oram agrees the union blockade of the plant may be an extreme measure, but he believes it was necessary since the company stonewalled all attempts to bargain.

“We want to negotiate our own settlements, but when you’re in a situation where a company is refusing to negotiate fairly and collectively, the process breaks down.

He’s hoping the demonstrations can apply enough pressure to force action.

“I think it’s going to take the government stepping in to do this. When it comes to binding arbitration, it brings about a settled agreement for all.”


Update: OCTOBER 3
Unifor claims D-J Composites has agreed to binding arbitration to settle a lockout the company forced on its workers for over 630 days.


This article was originally published by The Canadian Labour Institute.  

Reprinted with permission for CALM Members use.