Labatt says safety has improved since unionized workers left the job
The union representing striking Labatt brewery employees says replacement workers’ lack of experience has caused accidents at the brewery since the strike began.
But the company says the union has blown the incidents out of proportion, and that the brewery’s safety record has actually improved since workers walked off the job.
“We’ve been informed that an individual who was in as a replacement worker sustained an injury, and from what we heard, it was while working on a conveyor belt,” said Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, which represents about 50 brewery employees who have been on strike since late March. “We don’t have all of the details, but I believe the individual had her arm cut on a conveyer belt.”
Furlong said there was also a chemical spill of a caustic cleaning agent outside the building.
“That’s a matter of concern as well — it was outside the building,” she said, adding that the incidents show the need for anti-replacement worker legislation in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I think part of the concern that we have here is that we’re asking, again, for the government to bring in anti-scab legislation. And when we talk about anti-scab legislation, we talk about replacement workers coming in and prolonging the strike as a result of continuing on with the work. This puts a very different spin on it. We’re now looking at problems that are arising as a result of replacement workers who clearly don’t have the kind of training of people who are on that job normally would have.”
Labatt spokesman Wade Keller, though, said the union is misleading people with its version of the incidents.
Keller said a replacement worker banged her arm between a box of beer and the cover of a conveyor belt at the end of her shift July 10.
“As a precaution, security took her to the hospital to have her checked out. She was checked and released in under half an hour and returned to work the next day,” said Keller.
The spill of caustic soda, he said, happened when a delivery truck driver disconnected a hose after delivering 20,000 litres of the cleaning agent to the brewery, spilling less than two cups on the ground.
“It’s very common when you disconnect a hose that has liquid in it that some is going to drip out. It wasn’t one of our employees who did it. It was the delivery truck driver.”
Keller said the area was hosed down as per the company’s procedure.
He said the union’s claim that the accidents were caused by inexperience is not true.
“The reality is that since the strike began — using the period April to July — this year we’ve had three incidents that we would term needing first aid,” he said.
The most recent was the woman on the conveyor belt, but there was a manager who banged her head and another manager who had a sliver of glass go through a glove, but it didn’t cut the skin.
“Last year, same time frame, we had nine incidents that we term ‘first-aid incidents.’ The fact of the matter is we actually have a better record now since the strike began, than we did in the same period when our unionized workers were on the job.”
Every worker — replacement or full-time — is required to undergo safety training, Keller said.
Keller said the two sides are scheduled to talk today.
“We’ve said from the beginning we want to reach an agreement,” he said. “Sending out a press release such as this, that misrepresents the facts, is not helpful in terms of reaching an agreement, which should be everybody’s goal.”