The union representative for laid-off workers at the Scotsburn Dairy plant in St. John’s says the job losses are temporary.
The Telegram reported last week that between 40 and 50 people had been laid off at the plant, on Lemarchant Road, according to workers who spoke to the newspaper. The head of human resources disputed the claim of 50, but declined to say how many had lost their jobs.
Marie St. Aubin, national representative for the Canadian Auto Workers in St. John’s, which represents workers at the plant, said the total number of layoffs she was told was 46.
“This is a very temporary situation, and it’s not unusual that this time of the year that they would have a seasonal layoff,” she said. St. Aubin confirmed that it has been a few years since Scotsburn had such a seasonal layoff, but added that it used to happen every year. “But for the last couple of years, they’ve had so much work that they haven’t gone through that phase of layoffs. It’s to do with maintenance of machinery, et cetera. So if they shut down one machine, that’s equivalent to 21 people.”
She said some of the layoffs could last a week, others longer, and noted the layoffs would include students who would be leaving at the end of the summer anyway. When asked by The Telegram how many students had been hired this year, St. Aubin said she wasn’t sure. “I don’t know, probably around 15 or so, I’d say,” she said, but added it was possible, as workers have told The Telegram, that no students were hired this year.
St. Aubin said the layoffs are also partly a result of a slow summer.
“Their inventories are high, as I understand it, because as you know it hasn’t been the greatest summer. They do make ice cream,” she said.
A production worker who spoke to The Telegram said there had been rumours of layoffs flying around before the notices went out, but management didn’t give them an inkling.
“There’s one guy in particular, he went directly (to management) and said, ‘I want to buy a new car, but should I? Am I going to be laid off?’ and he was told specifically, ‘No, don’t worry about it, you’re not going to be laid off. Go and buy your new car.’ Six days later, he got his notice.”
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Business slower this year
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The worker, who has worked there for less than two years, disputed the maintenance reasoning. “Last year in particular, we did a major overhaul on all our equipment and machines, and we laid off nobody. What they did was they rotated us to different jobs and positions according to what needed to be done, what needed to be serviced. So they didn’t lay off anybody. And in fact, I think last year they hired 25 or 30 students on top of all this.”
But the worker acknowledged business has been much slower this year.
“This time last year, we were rockin’ and rollin’. And like I said we had all these students there to help us out because we needed them, and so they forecast ahead, thinking it would be the same for this year. So they made all this product to get ready for it, and in fact it wasn’t busy. There’s just nothing happening, so hence the layoffs.”
He said he can’t afford to wait and hope to get called back to work. “I hope I do. It’s a good-paying job, but I’m just going to do what I gotta do to keep my head afloat.”
The worker criticized the union, saying it has zero presence at the plant.
“We have three shifts running in the plant, 24 hours a day, five days a week, and there’s one shop steward covering everything,” he said. “And he’s on the day shift, so any of the other two shifts, they’ve got to make time out of their own way to go see him.”
St. Aubin disagreed with other criticism that the union has been silent on the layoffs.
“If we had any concern whatsoever that this was a permanent situation, but my understanding is that there’s nothing permanent about it. It’s a temporary situation, and certainly if there had been any intentions on the part of the company to eliminate these positions on a permanent basis, we certainly would have been meeting with them. We’ve had that contract for a long, long time, and any time that there is an issue, we’ve always met to work it out. But in this situation, given that it was temporary, we weren’t even really apprised of it until after it happened.”