Labatt workers off job since spring 2013
Three Labatt employees who were eligible for retirement in the past year are left in limbo as the strike nears the 10-month mark.
© — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
Striking Labatt Brewery workers had a bitterly cold day on the picket line Thursday when temperatures reached -30 C with the windchill. The strike has been ongoing for almost 10 months.
One of them was Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) Local 7004 president Frank O’Leary, who said he could have taken early retirement in 2013.
“It’s up in the air, that’s it,” said O’Leary, who has worked at the Leslie Street brewery for 32 years and may lean towards leaving over sour relations after the strike is concluded and there’s a contract.
“It’s hard on everybody.”
No formal talks have been held since July.
The beer strike of 1985, which affected both breweries, lasted
7 1/2 months.
The union wants a conciliation board appointed, but Labatt does not. A conciliator has been involved in the process.
Labatt Breweries of Canada director of corporate affairs Wade Keller said it’s in both sides’ interest to try to resolve it between themselves, and a board decision would not be binding.
He said the company hasn’t seen any loss in sales because of the boycott called for by the union, but it doesn’t like the situation, either. The company has made overtures and hopes there will be progress in the new year, he added.
“Right now, it’s status quo,” Keller said.
The monetary offer will put the Labatt brewery workers in St. John’s in line with others in the company’s network across the country, he said.
As the strike heads toward the one-year mark, O’Leary said the presence of replacement workers and the length of the strike without government action could spell the “death of unions.”
“We are very disappointed in the company. Since Day 1, the first week of proposals, there has been no movement at all,” O’Leary said.
About 50 workers are on strike at the plant.
Besides monetary issues, Keller said shift scheduling is another principal at odds between the two sides.
“I didn’t see it hitting nine months. Who knows, sometimes it can come together really quickly.”
The company has continued to brew beer with the replacement workers.
“The company would like to have the unionized workers back to work,” Keller said.
The workers voted for the strike in April, but the company claims the employees walked out in late March.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the NAPE request for a conciliation board is under review, while a senior conciliation officer continues to try to help the two sides resolve the dispute.
The spokesman said the primary responsibility for negotiating a collective agreement remains with the two sides.
In November, NAPE called on the provincial government to introduce legislation to prevent the use of replacement workers and strikebreakers during a legal strike.
The union blamed lack of such legislation for the prolonged brewery strike.