Judge dismisses Labatt application
A sign erected by striking Labatt employees outside the company plant on Leslie Street was at the heart of a case in Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s Thursday. A judge dismissed an application by the company to have it removed. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram
After almost five months on the picket line, it was a good sign for striking Labatt employees.
On Thursday, a Newfoundland Supreme Court judge in St. John’s dismissed an application by the company, seeking an injunction to have strikers remove a sign they erected outside its plant on Leslie Street.
Labatt claimed the sign — attached to a city no-parking sign on the sidewalk near the plant’s entrance — was causing a public safety hazard, because it is blocking the view of drivers coming and going from the building, and obstructing pedestrians.
The company took the case to court, despite the fact that City of St. John’s officials saw no problem with it.
When the complaint was first made by plant manager in July, city engineers investigated and determined it was not in violation of the City of St. John’s Act nor city bylaws.
And at the end of the hearing to argue the case Thursday, Chief Justice David Orsborn concluded that there was no legal reason to overrule the city’s decision.
“The city has already looked at this,” the judge said. “It’s not appropriate in proceeding since the city has already made its decision. … There is no legal basis to consider this (application).”
Following proceedings, close to a dozen delighted striking employees shook hands with union lawyers Sheila Greene and Paula Schump, who represented the employees, who are all members of Local 7004 of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE).
“I’m very happy for the employees,” Greene told reporters outside court.
“They have been law-abiding, respectful, and have had a perfect picket line. They’re working very hard to get through what has been a very difficult time.
“A strike this long is absolutely devastating for families, so it’s a bit of sunshine in the middle of a very difficult strike.”
About 50 workers engaged in a wildcat strike on April 10, prompted by the company’s request for the unionized workers to train their replacements. The request was made days before the expiration date of the workers’ collective agreement.
Not long after, the union launched a boycott campaign, asking the public to refrain from buying a large number of brands manufactured at the site.
When the strike began, Justice David Burrage ruled that striking workers cannot block access to the plant on Leslie Street. It also orders the union to take down tents.
In May, the picket line was forced to move when the company erected a fence to protect replacement workers.
In court Thursday, Labatt lawyer Blair Pritchett said the city was incorrect in determining it was not a violation, since it clearly obstructed free passage on the sidewalk. He said city officials didn’t even consider that point.
He said such signs also need the approval of counsel.
He also saw it as a violation of Burrage’s order.
However, Greene said that the city, and not the court, is in the best position to determine such things.
“The engineer checked the sight lines. This is what he does for a living,” she said.
“The employer is asking you to doubt his assertion and expertise in this field.”
She said there is no evidence presented to the court that the sign is a danger on the street, which has two sidewalks and two crosswalks.
Orsborn agreed, saying that if the company intends to pursue the matter, it should follow the proper procedure and address the city authorities instead of the court.
In handing down his final decision, Orsborn added, “One wonders if the time and energy put in this matter could’ve been better used to settle the dispute.”