Unifor, Loblaw agree to return to negotiations Thursday

·4 min read
Unifor/Twitter
Unifor/Twitter

The union representing striking Dominion workers and Loblaw Companies Limited have agreed to resume negotiations on Thursday in an attempt to settle the two-month long strike.

Both sides will meet in St. John's at 10 a.m. Unifor said in a media release it will not conduct secondary pickets while talks are ongoing, such as the picket line set up at Weston Foods in Mount Pearl.

"We're pleased to get back to the bargaining table. Unifor has always maintained that the only way this strike would end would be through serious negotiations between Loblaw Co. and the union," said Unifor national president Jerry Dias in the release.

Earlier Wednesday, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary was accused of intimidating striking workers after officers showed up at the Weston Foods picket line Tuesday night.

In a statement Wednesday, provincial NDP Leader Alison Coffin said the RNC's actions were unnecessary for a legal and peaceful picket line and put the rights of workers in Newfoundland and Labrador in jeopardy.

"This was an unnecessary use of police resources, and I question how our enforcement agencies were able to mobilize the upwards of 30 riot officers at midnight yesterday evening, especially when we are being asked to increase enforcement budgets," said Coffin.

"This was an excessive use of force to ensure the timely delivery of bread across the city. My office is reaching out to [Chief Joe] Boland, and representatives from Unifor to get more information on why this took place last night."

After question period on Wednesday Coffin told reporters she did speak with Boland. Coffin said in talking with the chief she came away with the understanding that from a procedural basis Tuesday's deployment of officers made sense. But, Coffin said, the approach could have been done differently.

"When I got to the picket line there was an enormous police presence, and the soft tactical gear, 30 officers coming at you in the darkness with lights flashing ... that's incredibly intimidating," she said.

"I think that perhaps a better approach could have been taken, maybe daylight could have been a nicer time to do that."

The union that represents the workers, who have been on strike for two months, maintained its members did nothing wrong.

Unifor/Twitter
Unifor/Twitter

Chris MacDonald, lead negotiator for the workers and assistant to Unifor national president Jerry Dias, said members were blocking trucks filled with product from leaving the site to get Loblaw back to the bargaining table.

In question period at the House of Assembly on Wednesday, PC MHA Helen Conway Ottenheimer asked why Justice Minister Steve Crocker would allow police to break up a peaceful and legal picket line. Crocker said he doesn't provide direction to police operations, but applauded Coffin for speaking to Boland and told Conway Ottenheimer the chief is available to speak to her too.

A public safety matter

The union says picketers were threatened with arrest. In a statement Wednesday, the RNC did not confirm whether any threats of arrest were made, but said "all communication with strike action leadership has been respectful" and the police force "remains focused on communication and education as it relates to public safety."

"While the RNC recognizes the strike action will affect the operation of day-to-day activity of Loblaws, and that there will be delays, it is imperative that all parties involved are educated on the legal parameters related to obstructing activity," reads the release.

Const. James Cadigan, the RNC's media relations officer, later told CBC News the police force has received complaints from the public about the striking workers, but did not provide specifics.

"We respond and receive information from officers on scene, and appropriately apply resources based on that information," he said.

Resources used in Tuesday night's incident included the RNC's public order unit, which Cadigan says is officers who are highly trained in de-escalation and crowd management.

Roughly 1,400 Dominion workers from 11 stores across the province have been on strike since August after Loblaw cut a $2-dollar wage increase it implemented for essential workers during the pandemic.

Workers are calling for more full-time jobs, saying 60 full-time positions were turned into part-time ones in 2019, and 80 per cent of employees work part time.

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