One day longer. One day stronger.

The Beacon (Gander) - - Editorial -

When an em­ployer locks out its work­force days be­fore Christ­mas, you know the dis­pute isn’t go­ing to be an easy one or a short one – not un­less those work­ers com­pletely ca­pit­u­late to con­ces­sions in­clud­ing wage freezes pro­posed by that em­ployer.

And make no mis­take, the em­ploy­ees of DJ Com­pos­ites in Gan­der, mem­bers of Uni­for 597, have no in­ten­tion of do­ing that. They didn’t on Dec. 19 when they were thrown on the street and they don’t 90-plus days into that lock­out.

They are a small, but mighty group of work­ers who have given much to en­sure there is an aero­space man­u­fac­tur­ing foot­print in cen­tral New­found­land and Labrador. By given much, I mean con­ces­sions dur­ing mul­ti­ple con­tract talks, in­clud­ing when DJ Com­pos­ites, a U.S.-based aero­space com­pany, pur­chased the op­er­a­tion from Heli-One (a sub­sidiary of CHC He­li­copters) in 2012.

De­spite the in­vest­ment of mil­lions of gov­ern­ment dol­lars into the op­er­a­tion by the Tobin gov­ern­ment in 1999, it has not lived up to the prom­ise of cre­at­ing an aero­space man­u­fac­tur­ing hub in Gan­der that would em­ploy 250 work­ers.

To­day, there are 31 union­ized work­ers and 15-17 man­age­ment em­ploy­ees at the fa­cil­ity, a far cry from what was promised.

The em­ployer claims work is slow, but in­stead of is­su­ing tem­po­rary lay­offs as any em­ployer would do when there is a work short­age, this em­ployer de­cided in­stead to lock our mem­bers out in the cold be­cause they re­fused to agree to a con­tract where the vast ma­jor­ity of work­ers would see a wage freeze for up to five years.

The wages at the fa­cil­ity are mod­est at best for this skilled sec­tor.

The de­mand for wage freezes came after a pat­tern of rou­tine dis­re­spect for its union­ized work­force and the col­lec­tive agree­ment. It should be men­tioned that DJ’s home­base is Au­gusta, Kansas. Kansas is a right-to-work state where com­pa­nies do not have to en­gage in a re­spect­ful give-and­take with its work­force and where those em­ploy­ees do not have much of a demo­cratic say in their work­ing con­di­tions.

On March 7 after agree­ing to re­turn to the bar­gain­ing ta­ble with the as­sis­tance of a Depart­ment of Labour con­cil­ia­tor, the em­ployer tabled ex­treme con­ces­sions even more egre­gious than prior to the lock-out, in­clud­ing a pay cut for some em­ploy­ees and a pro­posal to gut se­nior­ity pro­tec­tions.

From our vast ex­pe­ri­ence at the bar­gain­ing ta­ble, it is safe to say this em­ployer was not com­ing to the ta­ble look­ing for a set­tle­ment, in­deed the op­po­site. It is one thing to hold the line on con­ces­sions, it is quite an­other to de­mand fur­ther con­ces­sions. It has be­come clear this com­pany is try­ing to break the union, to break their re­solve and their sol­i­dar­ity.

It hasn’t worked.

In re­cent weeks as an­other storm raged through cen­tral New­found­land, rip­ping apart the shed our mem­bers had built for pro­tec­tion from one of the worst win­ters in re­cent years, the mem­bers of Uni­for 597 pulled to­gether as they have done ev­ery sin­gle day for the past 90-plus days. They re­built.

Their fight­ing spirit is un­de­ni­able.

In the days ahead, Uni­for will be call­ing on mu­nic­i­pal, pro­vin­cial and fed­eral politi­cians to get in­volved and put pressure on this com­pany not merely to bar­gain fairly, but to treat the work­ers of Gan­der with re­spect.

This is not the first time New­found­land and Labrador work­ers have had to face the in­dif­fer­ence of an em­ployer from an­other coun­try with no emo­tional or so­cial in­vest­ment and com­mit­ment to the prov­ince.

It likely won’t be the last.

But Uni­for is com­mit­ted to fight­ing with our mem­bers to get a fair con­tract no mat­ter how long it takes. As our mem­bers say ev­ery morn­ing on the picket line: one day longer, one day stronger.

In the mean­time, of­ten dur­ing this lock­out, I have been re­minded of the in­cred­i­ble spirit, warmth and hospi­tal­ity ex­pressed by the peo­ple of Gan­der and sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties when thou­sands of Amer­i­cans and in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers were stranded on their doorstep. I am re­minded of this be­cause I see the same spirit and warmth and sup­port ex­pressed by our mem­bers to­wards each other dur­ing this dif­fi­cult time and by the many, many peo­ple who have come by with cof­fee, donuts, food, fire­wood, fi­nan­cial do­na­tions and an en­cour­ag­ing word.

On be­half of Uni­for I sin­cerely thank all of you for that sup­port and sol­i­dar­ity. Please know it means a lot.

Lana Payne

Uni­for At­lantic re­gional di­rec­tor

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