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.”
“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.