Labour minister appoints mediator as Dominion strike enters 11th week

·3 min read

Newfoundland and Labrador's labour minister has appointed a mediator in the hopes it will help end a strike between Loblaw and Dominion workers that has entered its 11th week.

Gerry Byrne said Monday afternoon that he made the decision after negotiations broke down again.

"I took a decision over the weekend, given that talks had broken off late last week, given the gravity of the situation, affecting 1,400 employees ... to engage a mediator," he said.

Byrne said he decided to tap Wayne Fowler for the role, and that he advised both Unifor, the union that represents the workers, and Loblaw.

"A mediator is a respected and informed third party, independent third party that does sit down with the parties, both individually and collectively, and assists in the process of collectively bargaining, but will also provide recommendations to reasonable settlement terms, and so this is some of the work Mr. Wayne Fowler will be doing," Byrne told reporters after question period.

Fowler has "tremendous experience" and is "respected," said Byrne.

Some 1,400 workers have been on the picket lines since Aug. 22, and the stores remain closed.

Announcement comes after rocky week in dispute

Monday's development follows a tumultuous week that saw Unifor announce it would file a lawsuit against the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, alleging the charter rights of workers were breached when officers showed up at a picket line.

Chris McDonald, the union's negotiator, said at a press conference last week that "the actions of the RNC were heavy-handed, unnecessary and clearly violated the rights of these workers."

The RNC would not comment on the legal filing, but had previously said, in response to officer's presence, that "all communication with strike action leadership has been respectful."

A few days earlier, there had been a glimmer of hope that the impasse could be broken, when both sides announced they were heading back to the negotiating table. However, that bargaining session in St. John's failed to produce a deal.

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

On Monday, MacDonald told CBC News "there's not a lot of teeth" in the appointment.

"The mediators can make recommendations as to what they think would resolve the problem. Eventually they will bring the parties together and they will seek to help us find a resolution," he said.

"But we have had the assistance already of a government-appointed conciliator named Susan Whitten who has done her best to bring the parties together and has tried to work between both sides."

MacDonald said he's skeptical of a result coming from another mediator, but acknowledged Fowler's credibility is extensive and he is experienced in labour relations.

"It's possible the minister will take the advice of Mr. Fowler and seek to help us find a resolution, but ultimately it's going to take Loblaws moving off of their position, or some other means of finding a resolution," said Macdonald.

"I'm not sure this is it, but ultimately we'll figure it out going forward. I'm looking forward to receiving the call from [Fowler] and figure out how to move this forward."

CBC News has requested comment from Loblaw.

The main issues of contention continue to be the company ending the $2-an-hour wage increase for essential workers, implemented during the pandemic, and the push for more full-time jobs. The union says more than 80 per cent of Dominion workers are part time and 60 full-time jobs were converted into part-time positions last year.

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