THE City of Moncton management hides a dirty secret. It has been exploiting employment contract language loopholes to penny- pinch workers.
Over 20% of all municipal outside workers are without ordinary benefits, job protection, and wages all other City employees have.
The union representing municipal outside workers – CUPE – is doing all it can to fix this injustice in contract bargaining talks. Yet the City is refusing outright to recognise this as a problem.
‘We have members getting paid 65% of what a full-time regular worker makes,’ explained Leo Melanson, President of CUPE Local 51. CUPE’s Research Branch discovered that Moncton’s pay ratio for casuals is currently the lowest of any city in New Brunswick.
‘We have members working here, who have been doing full-time work for 7 years, never been laid off, but are stuck in this “casual” designation,’ said Melanson.
‘Equal pay for equal work should be the goal here. I hope these workers will be recognised with full-time positions,’ he added.
‘The city is growing. It’s long overdue that workers, may they be casual, regular, seasonal or even summer students, got a fair wage adjustment,’ continued Marcos Salib, CUPE Servicing Representative.
‘Bargaining talks between the union and the city are at a standstill. The union requests many casual work positions should be reclassified as permanent positions: management is not interested in fixing this problem or improving their below-than-inflation wage proposal.
‘We want the city to return to the table. Why they left in the middle of conciliation talks is beyond me. We should be talking about better services for citizens,’ concluded Salib.
The CUPE union said: ‘The decision by Fredericton City Council to recruit replacement workers during a strike and lockout by CUPE 508 outside workers does not fit well with the city’s advertised image as a “progressive” and “organic” community that values all citizens and what they contribute to the life of the city.
‘This sad situation is also a reminder of the time, 25 years ago, when a ban on strikebreakers was actively debated in the New Brunswick legislature.
‘In labour relations, the use of replacement workers is rarely part of the solution. They deepen the divide between workers and employers by depriving workers of their strongest sanction: the ability to withdraw labour and stop work.
‘Using replacement workers often leads to increased conflict, even violence, on picket lines. Disputes are prolonged, the public is dismayed, and the whole experience can leave resentments that last long after a formal settlement is reached … if there is a settlement.
‘Strikebreakers and security forces can easily be a recipe for violent confrontation. We can see this happening in a classic dispute in Saint John in 1914, when the street railway company tried to break a strike (in this case a strike for union recognition) by bringing in strikebreakers and private police from Montreal.
‘When the company tried to resume operations, thousands of people turned out to support the workers. Streetcars were stopped in their tracks, and a detachment of the Royal Canadian Dragoons charged down King Street into the crowds. When crowds attacked the company barns, gunshots were fired by the private detectives inside.
‘Fortunately nobody was seriously injured, and the strike was eventually settled through the intervention of the mayor. But this kind of “collective bargaining by riot” showed the need for better ways of managing labour relations.
‘It took a long time, but the rising tide of union organising, especially in the 1930s and 1940s, convinced political leaders in New Brunswick, as elsewhere in Canada, that establishing a formal labour relations system was the best way to promote stability and security in the workplace,’ the union statement concluded.
Ideas about positive labour relations were written into the original Labour Relations Act in 1945, which is sometimes seen as part of the plan for postwar reconstruction and progress in New Brunswick. Employers were required to recognise and deal with unions chosen by the majority of their employees.
Both sides were expected to ‘negotiate in good faith’ and ‘make every reasonable effort’ to reach settlements.
Meanwhile, a Department of Labour was created to provide assistance, and a quasi-judicial Labour Relations Board was mandated to adjudicate the law. The quid pro quo on the part of the unions was that officers were expected to ensure that there were no disruptions of work during the life of a collective agreement.
Strikes were a last resort, and legal strikes could take place only after all other efforts had failed.
When the next wave of labour organising arrived in the 1960s, the Public Service Labour Relations Act, brought in by Premier Louis J Robichaud in 1968 to apply to provincial employees, went so far as to state that ‘the employer shall not replace the striking employees or fill their position with any other employee’.
As far as Robichaud and the unions were concerned, this meant no strikebreaking. By the early 1990s there was hope that New Brunswick would follow Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia by enacting a law to ban the use of all replacement workers in strikes in the province.
Anti-scab legislation had long been part of the labour agenda, and at the opening of the legislature in 1988, the Minister of Labour was presented with a petition of 10,000 names calling for similar measures in New Brunswick. Some union leaders even believed, very briefly, that the new premier, Frank McKenna, favoured the idea.
Several long-running disputes highlighted the problem. This included long strikes at Brunswick Bottling, the distributors for Coca-Cola products in the province, and at Dairytown Products in Sussex.
In both cases, employers set aside their obligation to negotiate, and union workers were replaced so that production could continue. At Brunswick Bottling, the threat of an international boycott produced a settlement, but other workers were less fortunate.
The worst offender was the Irving oil refinery, where the company pursued a strategy of dividing workers against each other and continuing operations during the course of a two-year strike. The labour board ruled that the company was negotiating ‘in bad faith’, but by the end of the day Irving Oil had won the dubious distinction of being the only non-unionised oil refinery in Canada.
In this context, a bill was introduced in the legislature in 1995 to amend the Industrial Relations Act to prohibit the use of replacement workers during strikes in the province. To the surprise of many pundits, it passed first reading.
This was a notable achievement for Elizabeth Weir, the provincial leader of the New Democratic Party, still in her first term as the member for Saint John South.
Bill 21 went to the Law Amendments Committee for closer consideration, and public hearings were held. One union brief pointed out that since 1980 replacement workers had been used in 25 labour disputes in the province.
Another submission argued that prohibiting replacement workers would go a long way to promoting constructive labour relations in the province. But when the legislature was adjourned for an election that year, discussion was suspended.
Since then, Supreme Court decisions in 2007 and 2015 have confirmed that union rights, including collective bargaining and the right to strike, are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In an important observation, the Court noted that union rights are ‘the culmination of an historical movement’ and have become ‘a fundamental aspect of Canadian society’.
This is so because workers have fought for and defended those rights over a long history of social reform in this country. New Brunswickers have played their part in creating the modern industrial relations system, but the prohibition of replacement workers is still unfinished business.
- David Frank is a professor emeritus in Canadian history at the University of New Brunswick. His publications include Provincial Solidarities: A History of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour.
Last Friday afternoon on February 14th, Fredericton City Council voted to use strikebreakers (‘replacement workers’) during a labour dispute. Happy Valentines Day!
The Council vote occurred less than an hour after their lockout notice for City outside workers went into effect. The City workers, members of CUPE 508, had issued a strike notice after many fruitless attempts to negotiate a new collective agreement. Their agreement expired in December 2018.
The Supreme Court of Canada confirmed in 2015 that strikes are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the Canadian labour relations system, a union can issue a legal strike notice after collective bargaining has reached an impasse and the union members have voted to strike.
The ability of workers to withhold their labour is an essential element in the highly complex process of collective bargaining. Using strikebreakers or replacement workers, commonly called ‘scabs’, undermines and damages that process. For this reason, it is strongly discouraged by the United Nations International Labour Organisation.
AFIMAC, the professional security and strikebreaking firm contracted by the City of Fredericton was also used by the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton during the 2014 faculty strike. Many comments currently on Facebook from AUNBT members on the picket recall this as an attempt by the university administration to intimidate the striking faculty.
In Quebec and British Columbia, using strikebreakers during a labour dispute is illegal. In Quebec history, the Lachine Canal Labourers strike of 1843 is considered by some historians as ‘the pioneering clash between labour and capital.’ A thousand Irish migrant labourers working on the Lachine Canal near Montreal struck for higher wages, and their many clashes with strikebreakers and police resulted in bloodshed.
The 1977 Quebec law banning strikebreakers was introduced by the new Parti Québécois government after a long period of labour unrest in the province. Most notable was the strike by local 510 of the United Auto Workers at United Aircraft near Montreal, that lasted for 20 months into 1975 and was marked by violent confrontations.
When lawyer Pierre-Marc Johnson, Minister of Labour at the time, introduced the law in the Quebec National Assembly, he stated that ‘Where there are scabs there is violence.’
The section of the Quebec Labour code relevant to the Fredericton dispute is: ‘109.1. For the duration of a strike declared in accordance with this Code or a lock-out, every employer is prohibited from: Utilising the services of a person to discharge the duties of an employee who is a member of the bargaining unit then on strike or locked out when such person was hired between the day the negotiation stage begins and the end of the strike or lock-out.’
The law in British Columbia (BC) banning the use of strikebreakers was introduced in 1993 by the new NDP government, also after a period of labour unrest in the province under a right-wing and anti-labour Social Credit government.
The BC anti-scab law remains in place today. A March 2018 submission to the BC government by the BC Federation of Labour (BCFL) stated that ‘British Columbia should be proud of its continued ban on replacement workers.’
The BCFL recommended no change to the anti-scab section of the BC Labour Code because ‘any amendment would run counter to the good faith spirit of labour relations and would threaten British Columbia’s economic stability and labour peace’.
The section of the BC Labour Code relevant to the Fredericton dispute is: ‘During a lockout or strike authorised by this code an employer must not use the services of a person, whether paid or not, to perform the work of an employee in the bargaining unit that is on strike or locked out.’
Ontario also had a ban on strikebreakers introduced by the NDP government in 1993, that was repealed by the subsequent Conservative government in 1995.
Ten attempts have been made to introduce a national anti-scab law in Canada, all through private members’ bills by the Bloc Québécois. Only one (C-257) passed second reading. It had unanimous support from the BQ and NDP caucuses but was ultimately defeated by the Conservative government at third reading in 2007.
Quebec and British Columbia remain the only jurisdictions in North America with anti-scab legislation. Two countries have laws banning the use of strikebreakers, Japan and South Korea. In Europe, where collective bargaining is strongly protected, strikebreakers are rarely used.