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Coffin surprised by 'intimidating' police tactics at Unifor picket line

New Democratic Party Leader Alison Coffin
New Democratic Party Leader Alison Coffin. - David Maher/The Telegram
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

New Democratic Leader Alison Coffin says police tactics to break up a picket line at the Weston Foods bakery on Wednesday morning was “intimidating” and could have been handled better by police.

“I got a frantic call at 12:30 a.m. When I got to the picket line, there was an enormous police presence. The soft-tactical gear, 30 officers coming at you in the darkness with lights flashing, forward to a group of people who are part-time workers, people who are students, people who are just trying to protect their way of life and their livelihood and trying to make sure their labour rights are protected,” said Coffin.

“That’s incredibly intimidating. I think, perhaps, a better approach could have been taken.”

Dominion workers have been on strike since Aug. 22 over Loblaws Inc.'s offer of a $1-per-hour raise in pay.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has said its intention was the enforce the Highway Traffic Act.

Coffin says she spoke with RNC Chief Joe Boland about the deployment of police to the picket line, but she’s not sure exactly which section of the act was being enforced.

“I was also told that there is some legislation saying you cannot be prevented from leaving an establishment. I believe that’s where the problem came about,” said Coffin.

“Have you ever seen riot police show up in soft tactical gear to enforce the Highway Traffic Act before?”

Immigration, Skills and Labour Minister Gerry Byrne says the role of government in the labour dispute is to get both sides back to the table.

“No resolution will ever occur unless the parties get back to the table. That is not an opinion, that is a fact,” said Byrne.

Negotiations back on

In a news release sent late Wednesday, Unifor says the two sides will return to the bargaining table on Thursday.

“We’re pleased to get back to the bargaining table. Unifor has always maintained that the only way this strike would end would be through serious negotiations between Loblaw Co. and the union,” Unifor national president Jerry Dias stated in the release.

David Maher reports on provincial politics in St. John’s.

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