Complaints from businesses led to RNC presence at Unifor picket line: Chief

·3 min read
Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

Just over a week after police broke up a picket line of striking Dominion workers at Weston Foods in Mount Pearl, RNC Chief Joe Boland spoke with reporters to clear up what he is calling misinformation that has been spreading since.

The incident on Oct. 27 saw officers block Bruce Street where picketers were located in Donovans Business Park. Shortly after 8 p.m. officers began to disperse, while a few units remained on scene. Hours later police returned, with its Public Order Unit, aimed at keeping the situation between striking workers and employees of the Weston-owned company — also owners of Loblaw Companies Ltd, the parent company of Dominon grocery stores — from escalating.

Union members claim they were threatened with arrest if they didn't move from the line.

"Our sergeant and an inspector went in and asked them to open up the road and let off. They said that they refused and 'if you have to, you're going to have to arrest us,' and they sat in the middle of the entrance" Boland said on Thursday.

"We backed away at that time, and said we don't have the right number of officers here, nor did we have the officers that are trained in crowd management at that time."

Boland said it takes two officers to safely remove one person from a scene, explaining why the RNC returned with a larger presence later that night. The Public Order Unit is trained in crowd control and deescalation.

Unifor/Twitter
Unifor/Twitter

The incident sparked outrage from the union, the public and some elected officials, saying it was an intimidation tactic that should have been handled differently. The union maintains it was doing nothing wrong at the time and the picket line was peaceful. There was no injunction filed against keeping the striking workers away from the site, Boland confirmed.

Striking workers were blocking trucks filled with product from exiting the facility, but allowed employees of the business to freely cross the picket line, according to the union.

Complaints to police

Boland said it was 14 officers who were on the scene that night when police returned. All were dressed in regular police clothing and baseball caps.

"When we call our Public Order Unit out, they come with a kit that comes with all of that stuff you would see. Knee pads, shoulder pads, but that's the last thing. That will only escalate if the situation determines it," said Boland.

"In this case here, there was actually no face-to-face encounter with any members of our Public Order Unit. On the night in question there was an inspector, a sergeant, and a constable that spoke with the senior leadership of Unifor on that picket line."

The chief said he disagrees that the police presence was unnecessary, adding the company has a right to get their vehicles off the parking lot which was blocked by striking workers.

Further, Boland said it wasn't an intimidation tactic and the RNC had received at least three complaints from companies who were worried about shipping or receiving the products loaded onto the blocked trucks.

"When we went back, we went back to make sure that we had the resources that kept everyone safe," said Boland.

"It's not our intent to take a position with this. There are laws, federal and provincial, that come into play that we have to enforce."

On Thursday Unifor said it filed its lawsuit against the RNC claiming the Charter rights of Dominion workers were breached on the evening of Oct. 27.

Also on Thursday the union returned to its secondary picket line at Weston Foods in Donovans.

About 1,400 Dominion workers across Newfoundland and Labrador have been on strike since August.

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