GANDER, NL – As D-J Composites employees prepare to spend their second Christmas on the picket line in Gander, Ignatius Oram says the lockout never should have been allowed to go on this long.
The 32 employees were locked out Dec. 19, 2016 by the American employer after negotiations with Unifor — the bargaining unit for Local 597 – broke down.
The union has made several attempts to bring about a resolution, but states it refuses to give into company concessions that include “gutting seniority provisions and arbitrary merit pay.”
The provincial labour board found D-J Composites guilty of bargaining in bad faith in May of this year. An independent mediator brought in by the provincial government in October failed to resolve the situation.
And while the locked-out employees continue to hold the line, D-J Composites continues to hire replacements.
Oram said it makes for a very frustration situation.
“It’s been a tough year on all of us and it’s been stressful on our families,” he said.
Two of the 32 employees have left the picket line – one terminating their position with the company and the other leaving to seek full-time employment elsewhere.
Others, when not on the picket line, have taken part-time jobs to help with the bills.
With the second Christmas on the picket line approaching, Oram said it is especially frustrating.
“Christmas is supposed to be a happy time to spend with your family,” he said. “Whether you’re working or not, it puts extra financial strain on a household.
“To be in the same situation as last year – everyone was looking for that glimmer of hope, the ‘goodwill towards mankind’ where (the company) would say ‘ok, enough is enough – let’s try and get a deal to get back to work,’ but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.”
Oram remains firm that the company continues to bargain in bad faith in an effort to bust the union, but he casts blame on provincial labour laws as well.
“You’ve got an employer that’s been found guilty of bad-faith bargaining by our labour board here on the island,” he said. “That’s not something that happens every day. It tells you something is wrong here.
“It’s no longer (just) shame on the company, it’s shame on the government as well.”
Oram says the locked-out employees will continue the fight in hopes that it will bring about changes to the province’s labour laws.
“If we have to be the guinea pigs for change in this province, then we will,” he said.
Lana Payne, Unifor's Atlantic regional director, took exception with both D-J Composites’ tactics and the provincial government.
“We have an employer who refuses to bargain fairly, and we have no legislation to force them do so, despite the right of a union to negotiate and bargain fairly and freely,” Payne said.
“You need to have those rights backed up with decent labour legislation, but our province allows employers found guilty of bad-faith bargaining to not face serious consequences – there is no legislation for a resolution to be found.
“We are calling on government to make changes to labour legislation to make sure we have such provisions.”
The locked-out employees and Unifor intended to make those opinions known at a protest in St. John’s on Tuesday, which marked one-year being on the picket line.
D-J Composites did not respond to the Beacon’s interview request.