Replacement workers targeted at union rally

Garrett Barry
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Striking Labatt workers were flanked by supporters from other unions at a rally outside the brewery on Leslie Street in St. John’s Tuesday. — Photo by Garrett Barry/Special to The Telegram

About 80 people, including striking Labatt workers and members of other unions, turned up at the Labatt brewery in St. John’s Tuesday afternoon for a rally.

Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) president Carol Furlong lead the rally, which paid special attention to the replacement workers currently running the Labatt brewery. Between chants of support and solidarity, Furlong renewed calls for “anti-scab” legislation.

“Once again, it goes right back to where we’ve been for years and years, saying ‘Provincial government, premier, cabinet, you have to bring in anti-scab legislation,’” she told reporters.

Local union official Frank O’Leary said the replacement workers complicated the relationship between the brewery and its employees.

“How would you like it if somebody came in and you train them to do your job, and then next week they let you go?” he said. “It made it very hard to negotiate.”

Opposite the rally, there was a display set-up on the fence of a neighbouring house which showed the names of replacement workers on signs.

“When you’re the person on the picket line, and you’re very limited in what you can do, then it’s at least some mechanism to vent some of that frustration with people who are crossing your picket line,” Furlong said of the display.

But Wade Keller, Labatt’s director of corporate affairs for Atlantic Canada, says that display took it too far.

“Lets be clear — this is a labour dispute between a company and the union,” he said. “This sort of tactic does very little, in fact it does nothing, to help solve outstanding issues.

“Long term, it can create hard feelings between employees, who at some point will be working together again.”

Profits questioned

“This is a company that is based on profits. They are profit oriented,” said Furlong. “They are making big, big profits. And in turn, I think it’s only fair that they should share some of that with their workers, instead of coming back constantly looking for concession after concession.”

Although he wouldn’t discuss numbers, Keller says that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a profitable company.

“Businesses are profitable, or they don’t operate,” he said. “If you’re not profitable then you can’t support things like the George Street Festival, or the various charities and organizations (that we support.)”

“Are we profitable? Yes. But do we share those profits with our employees and the community? Absolutely.”

He also said whatever the state of Labatt as a whole, each of the breweries must remain competitive on its own.

“Business is changing. It’s getting more and more expensive to do business,” he said.

“We want a deal that allows us to ensure that we’re able to market our products properly ... while at the same time treating our employees fairly.”

He said Labatt has brought forward a deal that treats the unionized employees the same as the non-unionized employees.

Neither NAPE Local 7004, the union for the Labatt workers, nor the company itself would comment on what is currently being discussed, but both sides said they want negotiations, which reportedly broke down May 13, to resume.

A wildcat strike began at the brewery on March 25, which was apparently prompted by a Labatt request for employees to train replacement workers who could run the plant.

The courts ordered the picket line removed on April 9, but members of the union officially voted to strike again on April 10.

The union has been without a contract with Labatt since March.

Organizations: Labatt, Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada

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Recent comments

  • Pensioner
    June 04, 2013 - 19:30

    No need to truck beer here from anywhere. This beer will only be a memory soon. Greed, Greed, Greed! Don't drink scab beer. Busiman why don't you leave and take your greed with you. Its always the rich getting richer and wanting to leave employees with less and less and that's the bottom line here. Anyone who wants to be in a union should be able to join one, it's a good thing. Wait until they all get together... they'll only be pushed so far.

    • david
      July 04, 2013 - 08:05

      There's no question of the greed. And I woudn't be surprised if it results in Labatt's leaving. It is the only decision that is left in their control, and it would quite certainly be completely supported and appreciated by all the shareholder owners of the company. The cost of doing so is simply the loss of an isolated, tiny market that is stagnant to shrinking, which could be replaced by some town in China at the drop of hat. Labatt's unionized workers are more stupid when sober than anynoe else when drunk.

  • a business man
    June 02, 2013 - 09:30

    Chantal - I am upset over unskilled uneducated people fighting to keep decent wages because of numerous reasons. Firstly, as unskilled uneducated people make more money, the spending power of the other people goes down because there is more money in the system. Inflation occurs because there is a greater money supply. On the other hand, if the wages of the unskilled uneducated workers goes down, then the spending power of everyone else goes up. WHy? Because there is less money in the system. It is not rocket science, but rather simple supply and demand economics. Of course, the uneducated will not understand such a basic concept. I do think unskilled uneducated people should accept less becuase they are unskilled and uneducated. The fact that a replacement worker can walk in and do the job demonstrates how little skills the workers really have. They are pathetic....truly can you spend you life doing something that anyone off the street can do...Do these people not have pride or ambition? if not, why not? I went to law school and business would take a long time to train a replacement for me. I am not posting because I want to make myself better, but I am posting because I and everyone else in the province has an interest in seeing these unskilled uneducated workers make less....and that interest is greater spending power. Furthermore, the destrcution of unskilled uneducated middile class jobs is a good thing because it will show the younger generation that post secondary education is essential. Make no mistake, the middle class is the most important thing to the economy. BUT I want a middle class that only includes skilled and educated post secondary graduates. At this day and age, I believe that there is not enough room in the middle class for unskilled uneducated workers, so I cheer when I see them lose their jobs. IN this case, I truly hope that the factory closes. I beleive that minimum wage is still too much for unskilled uneducated workers. Of course, all of this is just my opinion, but my opinions guide my business practices and pruchasing practices. Over the last few years, I have acquired both majority shares and miniorty shares in very profitable companies that have padded the bottom line by unilaterally reduced the wages of unskilled workers to minimum wage. Yes, some grumbled, complained, lost their homes and cars, and are very upset. But at the end of the day, they still report to work and do their jobs because they are just unskilled uneducated workers. If they could earn more elsewhere, if they were actually worth more, they would leave. But they don't because they have nothing valuable to offer, and that is why they were targetted for wage reduction....becuase they are not likely to go, and because if they go, someone else will do the job. I hope that answers your questions Chantal. Really, it is just business and economics. Nothing personal.

    • Fred
      June 03, 2013 - 15:48

      To "A Business Man", I find your comments interesting, but more than a little on the conceited side. While some workers at the brewery have high school education, many have post secondary. The misconception you have, is that the replacement workers came right off the street. This is not the case. Many of these workers have been brought in from breweries across Canada and are specialists in their chosen field. This was necessary when the "specialists" at the St. John's plant decided to use their right to strike in order to get a "fair" collective agreement. I find it hard to believe that you can call a person who has been a brewer for 30 years "unskilled". While I wholly admit you are a very well-educated person, and no doubt you are valued to your organization, your pompous attitude shows signs of insecurity. Really, it is just my opinion. Nothing personal.

    • a business man
      June 07, 2013 - 06:27

      Well Fred, those who only have a high school education should not be making more than minimum wage, ever. Even if one has 30 or 40 years experience, I believe they are still unskilled because their so called abilities are the result of experience that anyone can get off the street. The bottom line is that in my opinon, anyone without post secondary education is only worth miniumum wage. I run my company this way, I tell my clients to treat their workers this way. Treating unskilled workers as disposable tools is a sound and profitable business strategy. Nothing I learned in law school or in business school has made me more money than this strategy.

  • Transport Bob
    May 30, 2013 - 03:21

    Several years ago I was involved with negotiations with this company's head office in Mtl to truck beer in from the mainland. They already have the cost numbers...they have already crunched them. If trucking in beer is more cost-effective than trying to satisfy union demands....then you can all kiss your jobs good-bye. It's just as easy for a transport company to distribute beer from west to east, as it is for them to distribute it from east to west across this island, which is happening right now. If/when the plant shuts down, these picketers are going to have a serious wake-up call when they go out and try to replace the income they currently have. By then, it will be too late.

    • david
      May 30, 2013 - 13:45

      For the size of the market, and the waste of resources and BS it takes to do business here, I'm surprised Labatt's hasn't just pulled the plug and left on their own accord. Let the market supply itself.....bootlegged product that Labatt can sell to them in Nova Scotia ---- at no incremental expense or BS. The "rural Labrador" liquor retailing model...perfect! Sure it will likely end up being $40 a case to the consumer...who cares? Obviously no one here. Not too bright, we.

  • hardworker
    May 29, 2013 - 18:32

    I remember years ago when the workers at a sawmill near St John wanted to form a union to increase their wages. The owner said that he was barely staying above water as it was and could not afford to pay more. After several months he shut the mill down and built a mall on the site. All the workers lost their jobs. Could that happen in this situation ???

  • Duffy
    May 29, 2013 - 17:54

    Useless greedy them all and hire replacement workers who will love the pay and benefits.

    • Fred
      May 30, 2013 - 21:57

      Is that Duffy? As in Mike Duffy? Everyone, who has been in the workforce for years, knows that there is good and bad with unions. However, if you maintain reasonable expectations, and are willing to bargain then there is a good chance an agreement can be reached. Unionism is really the only way to counteract the power these huge multinational organizations can wield. i think Duffy it is time you opened your mind a little, it seems rather closed.

    • a business man
      June 02, 2013 - 09:35

      Good Post Duffy! That is what I do with unions. I use replacement workers and negotiate agressively. Also, I only invest in companies which have low transition costs, so that I can move the plant over night if I feel that it is best. Fruthermore, all my recent investments have been in right-to-work states. I am actually moving 150 jobs from newfoundland to a right to work state because I am sick of unions. I don't need the cost savings. I can afford to make the union more than what they want. BUT I do not want to give more to unskilled uneducated workers, and I do not feel that as the owner I should have to negotiate. So, I am moving the company to a jurisdiction which will make it likely that I will not ever have to deal with a union.

  • david
    May 29, 2013 - 15:11

    Right now, Labatt Blue ("imported"!) sells for US$5.99 a six-pack in NY state....on sale, you can get it for $5.49. Buy it in larger volume, and it's even a little cheaper per unit. If you have a brain, start processing the various implications of this reality.....I imagine it would be a bit mind-blowing for the completely ignorant.

    • Brad
      May 31, 2013 - 06:35

      Taxes David...taxes...

  • Brenda L.
    May 29, 2013 - 15:09

    You're right Chantal; so much anger and bitterness from people too concerned about other's lives. Still, these freeloaders are happy to bash the very unions who have made life better for all of us.

    • a business man
      June 03, 2013 - 21:56

      Unions have served their purpose. We now have labour laws. Thank you unions, but we are now happy to cut you out to save some money. Actually, unions have made life better for me. As a lawyer, I help companies outsource local jobs to make more money. The service that I provide would not exist if not for the endless demands for higher wages by unskilled uneducated workers who offer nothing other than their labour. If they were specialized workers, they could not be outsourced. But they are just uneducated and unskilled, so they are not important and can be disguarded like cheap broken dollar store tools. I have nothing against them personally, but they are not my family so I have no issue helping profitable companies outsource their jobs.

  • david
    May 29, 2013 - 14:56

    That a guy can walk in off the street and start doing your job says a lot about the job. That you aren't smart enough to very simply avoiding a situation where everyone finds that out says a lot about you. .....eejots.

    • Fred
      May 30, 2013 - 10:07

      To Calvin, you talk as if you have some intimate knowledge of the brewery and their operations. If you read the signs displayed on Leslie Street, you will soon realize that the people running the brewery now are largely brought in from other breweries from across Canada. These are specialists in their chosen field. The mere fact that it took nearly three weeks after the walkout to begin production speaks to the skill of the workforce. So how about, easing the rhetoric.

  • Calvin
    May 29, 2013 - 14:48

    Sam Snow you hit the nail on the head. This is an uneducated work force that inherited these jobs from family members more or less. If they aren't careful, Labatt is going to close the brewery, then they will be in a pickle. Every other Labatt brewery in the country took the deal that Labatt is offering, yet here in Newfoundland they are fighting tooth and nail. Every person working for minimum wage in NL would kill for this job, and they are just as qualified as the workers down there now. Management was trained to operate the brewery during the strike, and every job in the place was mastered by pencil pushers in 2 days..... Has anyone noticed their favorite corner store running out of any Labatt products? Because I sure haven't.

    • Dean William Barnes
      May 31, 2013 - 06:47

      Perhaps someone else can correct me on this, but I thought it was reported that the contract being offered here has NOT been offered to any other brewery union yet, that Labatt is trying to get the Newfoundland Union to accept this contract here first (because the Newfoundland Union is one of the smallest unions and the concessions are so extreme) so that Labatt management can use the precedent in negotiations with its other larger unions. In regards, to the necessary skill sets to perform the work, saying that the entire organization is run by an uneducated work force is obviously ignorant.

  • suzanne
    May 29, 2013 - 13:16

    This union has the wages and benefit that most could only dream of. If things are so terrible, go take your high school education (or less) and do your best on getting the same package somewhere else. Your public sympathy is zero, you are not saving lives here people, get real.

  • MIkey Big Pond
    May 29, 2013 - 12:22

    These guys are being paid a fortune as it is, stop crying foul. There are many residents of this province with far more education than the bottle watchers at this brewery with little to no education that cannot find decent wages. They'd work for half of what these guys are getting. Call the Whaaaaambulence.

  • Fezziwig
    May 29, 2013 - 11:54

    I have to wonder how all those people complaining about people not working are spending so much time playing around on their computers when they should be being productive for their employers.

  • Chantal
    May 29, 2013 - 11:35

    I have to wonder why people get so upset over other peolple fighting to keep decent wages and benefits. Are you jealous? Do you think that they should somehow accept less than everyone else? Or is is just plain mean spiritedness? I'm sorry you feel you have to be so nasty towards other people just to make yourselves feel better.

    • david
      May 29, 2013 - 15:03

      People get upset when bank robbers get away with robbing banks, or when known rapist gets acquitted....that's this same 'jealusy' you speak of right Chantal? I know I'm always jealous of a drunk driver who kills someone and gets off on a technicality...if only I could do that! You should be a defense lawyer....working for union scale, of course.

    • Chantal
      May 30, 2013 - 08:09

      Comparing striking worker to rapists... that's pretty pathetic, even by your standards.

    • Chantal
      May 30, 2013 - 08:20

      Life must be so hard for you whith all those hippies, John. Have you considered moving to Red Deer or Fort MacMurray.

    • david
      May 30, 2013 - 10:09

      Reading they not teach that at NDP boot camp? No, I guess not....they tossed it out in favour of "Techniques in Hyperbole, Bait-and-Switch, and Obfuscation".

    • Sean
      June 02, 2013 - 17:27

      Exactly Chantal. The problem in our society is that we are all to busy and jealous of wondering what this person is making and what benefits they have. This is what governments and the corporations want. If we are so busy fighting amongst ourselves, then we won't be fighting against the ones that need to be (government and corporations). The phrase, "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" has never been more true. Government and corporations are always looking for ways to cut us back and to live on less while they thrive. It has to stop, but as long as we are fighting one another, nothing will change, and the governments and corporations will continue to win, PERIOD!!!!!!!!

  • Labguy
    May 29, 2013 - 10:31

    I'm sick of hearing labor unions cry for "Anti-Scab" legislation. The premise here is that the unions should be able to essentially dictate to the companies, who would then have have no recourse but to give in or close up shop. In order to foster economic growth (which is provided by business, not unions) we need to realize that the overwhelming majority of Canadians (~70%) are non-unionized. In line with that any so-called "Anti-Scab" legislation flys in the face of democracy.

    • a business man
      June 02, 2013 - 09:12

      Good Post! As an investor, I actually moved a company from Quebec to Newfoundland because I do not want to deal with anti-scab legislation. If Newfoundland goes that route, then I will happily close the office and relocate. The workers mean nothing, the profits mean everything. The jobs are not the property of the workers, they are the property of the company owner.

  • That's a joke right PF?
    May 29, 2013 - 09:47

    @ P F Murphy - your argument probably makes a ton of sense.. if you jump in a time machine and set it to 1965. This is not a coal mine that theses people are working in, and there's no significant danger when they walk into work. Fighting to 'keep the benefits others have fought and struggled to achieve", is in essence fighting to work towards collecting EI benefits. The beer industry here has always provided some of the better paying jobs for the province (before the recent boom), to a point where the pay scale has gotten entirely out of whack. The workers need to ask themselves what's better, a 5% reduction in pay to get in line with the rest of the company or a 100% reduction once the plant closes, and the prospects of new employment. The truth is, if an employee at the brewery had a 20% reduction in pay, they would still be 10-15% ahead of the average earner.

  • sam snow
    May 29, 2013 - 09:26

    So what does a guy working at the brewery make now? What benefits are they getting and how much does that increase the cost for each worker? Sounds to me that union leaders are trying to protect their union dues!! Unions have driven many companies out of the province and their products are just shipped in to us... Coke comes in to us from the mainland.. Beer can too. Be careful what you do... you may have NO JOB!!!

  • Anywhere
    May 29, 2013 - 08:32

    Anywhere you go, you will find a new worker that has to be trained by somebody below him/her. However you don't expect to be laid off after training them. Maybe they should make public Labatt profits. It seems like companies want to make more profits than last year, every year. If they can't increase revenue, they decrease expenses, usually at the cost of the workers who make the profits for them. Of course they support George St, that's how they make their profit!!!!!

    • a business man
      June 02, 2013 - 09:53

      Correct Masterwatch, but also not that MF may force someone people out of home ownership and into life long renting. Honestly, I think this is a good thing (for me) because I am a resident landlord. So while I do share the same concerns about the pensioners and low income people, I still support MF because I am position to benefit from the potential disaster. It is not my job to do what is best for the low incomers or the pensioners job. I do what is best for me.

  • P F Murphy
    May 29, 2013 - 08:21

    If the company wants all the workers to have equal benefits, then they should increase the benefits of the non-unuin employees, not rob the union employees of theirs. It is the story of history that unions are instrumental in improving wages and benefits for all society and not just their members. That non-union employees are not paying the cost of working for nor putting themselves on the line of fighting for these increases is also the way things have always gone. I personally would be embarrassed if I were not to pay my own way for receiving those benefits others have fought and struggled to achieve for me. Companies and much of the media are always on the howl that unions are bad but the unions have done more to improve our society that any company has even done. We would still be back with children working 16 hour days in coal mines if we had left it up to the companies so don't talk to me about beer for George Street, talk to me about putting food in mouths of workers' children and paying workers enough money so they can pay their taxes to support our roads, airports, ferries, hospitals, schools and everything else for which I constantly hear the business lobby groups braying at the government not to have them pay any share at all. Get your workers back to work Labatts unless, of course, you want to make your beer in a collapsing building in Bangladesh for 23 cents an hour and then ship it to Canada. Lots more profit in that I would guess, eh Galen?

  • Robb
    May 29, 2013 - 07:49

    THe replacement workers should target the union right back, especially O'Leary and furlong.....the union don't want to work, too bad...just get out of the way.....this province should absolutely adopt the "right to work" legislation that many US states have or will more should the public, private companies, or gov't have to put up with the low balling, sooky unions......they can try all their union dirt tricks, but the first time someone stands up to them or disagrees, they go crying to their mommies........and then go to the streets with their stupid signs....who cares....?? don't want to work, who really cares.?.....go back to work out of it and take care of your families properly.

    • Sachmo
      May 29, 2013 - 09:35

      Are you willing and able to work for minimum wage? Do you have a mortgage, rent to pay, a vehicle to operate, a family to take care of? These people do, so what makes you so special?

    • Chantal
      May 29, 2013 - 10:27

      I have to wonder why people get so upset over other peolple fighting to keep decent wages and benefits. Are you jealous? Do you think that they should somehow accept less than everyone else? Or is is just plain mean spiritedness? I'm sorry you feel you have to be so nasty towards other people just to make yourselves feel better.