Gender equality key in toxic waste strike; employer choppers in scabs

UNIFOR Local 914 'Flying Squad'

SCABS RUNNING PICKET LINES IS BAD ENOUGH. But airlifting scabs over picket lines is something else again. But that’s the the kind of bare knuckle battle the employer has forced on the workers at a toxic waste treatment site in Sarnia.

The 76 workers at the Clean Harbors site, all members of Unifor Local 914, went on strike November 22. They are lab workers, janitors, and loader and fill operators.

Gender equality key union ask

“Gender equality and fairness are at the core of this job action,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “The employer can either follow the collective agreement and ensure wages keep up with inflation or it can expect work disruptions.”

“It is not business as usual at the Clean Harbors site,” said Tom Rinker, Local 914 President. “These workers have earned a fair offer that reflects their role in the profitable operation of this facility.”

National Rep. Gary Lynch says the employer deliberately discriminates against the women they hire. He points out woman don’t even have their own changerooms or showers at the facility.

“The company is not progressing the female members and staff onsite by seniority,” says Lynch. “The erosion of seniority rights and their progression around the plant isn’t being honoured. So, we’ve got some big ticket items still to deal with.

“We have female individuals that have been skipped over for job progression, which it’s clearly spelled out in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“The company’s been fighting with the union over — ‘Ah, we don’t feel she’s qualified,’ but you hired her.  You brought her in on an entry level, her seniority takes her to the next progression and you’re saying ‘no’ and hired outside the unit and brought somebody else in.”

Lynch said the women are not brought on to just be janitors and be stuck at the very lowest pay scale, adding that it’s 2021 and time for the company to get with it.

Flying in scabs

“The company will not budge on some of these issues. To be honest, they’ve filed for a Section 108 which forces a vote of the membership should the minister see fit. It’s all posturing, we’ve already had a strike vote and we had 100 per cent unanimous support.

An early settlement is not likely, says Lynch, particularly with the employer decision to go bare knuckle and fly in scabs just three days after the strike started

“Unifor has taken the stance that the company — with flying in scabs in helicopters — is trying to send a message that this is now a dispute over monies and who has the most money to spend, and not what’s in the best interest being our members and their employees.”

Airborne health hazards

The use of the helicopters adds a whole new dangerous dimension to the strike, says Lynch.

“What goes in that landfill needs to be covered. They’re landing near the talc site, which they have stockpiled waste there, and now that’s become airborne.  

“Everybody in hell’s radius there is going to be exposed to terrible, toxic stuff.  Now, I’m going to go bang on every single farmer’s door and let them know that their children could be exposed.”

Lynch said the striking workers could see plumes of dust in the air every one of the fours times the helicopters touched down with a load of scabs on November 24.

“We don’t bake cookies here,” said process operator Derek Roehler “we’re in a hazardous waste environment. “It’s a very dangerous environment and I hope that the other people that are coming in are trained to do the job.”

The last collective bargaining agreement expired on April 29, 2021.

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