GANDER- N.L. – Unifor has won an appeal over the denial of employment insurance (EI) for employees of D-J Composites in Gander.
The employees have been locked out by the company since December 2016.
"This is a significant victory for our members both financially and in raising their spirits," said Lana Payne, Unifor’s Atlantic regional director, said in a release today, July 18.
"Eighty-two weeks on a picket line is tough and demoralizing. We have consistently told our members that we will leave no stone unturned in representing them and their rights."
Unifor appealed a decision by the Canada Employment Insurance Commission that had denied the workers benefits.
According to Unifor, the case of D-J Composites is different than most strike-lockout situations, where workers are not eligible to collect EI.
The Social Security Tribunal found D-J Composites did not meet the test of a lockout as outlined in EI regulations and ordered that workers be awarded all EI benefits, the release stated.
The employer had issued the workers records of employment weeks after locking them out, a practice Unifor noted is not normal in a strike-lockout situation and is usually done when severing the employment relationship.
The workers filed for EI after receiving their records of employment, the release notes.
The case focused on the definition of a "labour dispute."
According to Unifor, although there was a strike vote and a vote rejecting the employer's latest offer, the union did not issue notification to the employer of any job action.
The union fully intended to return the bargaining table to obtain a fair collective agreement, the release states.
The Social Security Tribunal noted that actions by the employer demonstrated advance preparation for the lockout and there was no work stoppage and production continued.
It held that the workers were "laid off in anticipation of a work stoppage, not because of a stoppage of work attributable to a labour dispute.”
Local 597 chair Ignatius Oram welcomed the decision but said members are disappointed the provincial government has not done more to help them.
"I have to ask, if we were locked out in the Town of Deer Lake, would we be getting the same response from the premier? I sincerely doubt it," he said, a reference to Premier Dwight Ball's hometown.
Payne charged the Newfoundland and Labrador government has refused to recognize the province’s labour laws have allowed the lockout to continue while D-J Composites has violated those laws.
"The complete inaction by the provincial government has prolonged this 577-day lockout and sent a clear message to the employer that they can break laws at will with no repercussions," said Payne.
Ball has failed to respond to three requests from Unifor to meet to discuss the dispute, the union release noted.