One day longer. One day stronger.
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.
Unifor Atlantic regional director