07/26/2018 12:47 EDT | Updated 07/26/2018 12:48 EDT

Canada Should Ban Employers From Using Scabs During Strikes

Scabs steal the chance to help build good jobs in the community, and prolong the pain felt by strikers and their families.

Some people don't like the name "scabs." I do.

Some people prefer to call them "replacement workers." I don't

When workers are forced on strike to defend good jobs in their community, companies have the legal — and immoral — right to hire other workers to cross the picket line and take the jobs of those on strike.

These are scabs. There are other things I could call them, too, most of which can't be published.

One good name, though, is "thief," because they're stealing jobs from those exercising their legal right — under Canadian law, and recognized as a basic human right by the United Nations — to withhold their labour during a contract dispute.

Chris Helgren / Reuters
A strike poster from the auto workers union Unifor is posted at a picket line outside the General Motors Co CAMI assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ont., on Oct. 13, 2017.

Scabs steal the chance to help build good jobs in the community. They are stealing the hopes of the families invested in the community for their future. They are stealing from every worker with every shift they put in as a scab.

It's disgraceful to be a scab, or to hire one.

Full disclosure: as a labour leader, I have a natural dislike of scabs or any company that would use them. Recently, this issue hit very close to home.

A recent strike by Unifor members at the Compass Mineral salt mine in Goderich, Ont., dragged on for more than two months because the company brought in busloads of scabs — flown in from as far away as New Brunswick.

Using scabs only prolonged the strike and the pain felt by the strikers' families and the entire community, as spending power by the 350 members dried up. The company would rather put money in scabs' pockets than the community that had hosted it for a century.


Scabs must be banned.

It's little wonder, then, that local businesses hung signs in their windows, and residents posted signs on their lawns supporting the strikers. They knew who was standing up for the community, and who was not.

The strike finally ended after the miners stopped the scabs from getting to work, and the company returned to the bargaining table.

Scabs must be banned. It's just that simple, just as they have been in Quebec since 1977, and in British Columbia since 1993. Across Canada we have unions, and labour laws, to help balance the power between companies and workers. The idea is that the two sides are able to meet as equals and work out the terms of employment in the workplace.

The rules and procedures around this vary from province to province, but the basic idea is that during the term of a collective agreement, no strike or lockout can take place. During negotiations, if a new contract cannot be worked out, workers have the right to withdraw their services and employers have the reciprocal right to lock them out.

It's meant to be balanced. Both sides have the legal right to stop production. Scabs skew that balance.

jekershner7 via Getty Images

Thankfully, the vast majority of contracts are negotiated without a labour disruption of any kind. When they aren't, however, the use of scabs unfairly tips the balance of power to the employer.

We've seen this in Gander, too, where workers at U.S. owned D-J Composites, also members of Unifor, have been locked out by their employer for more than 18 months and replaced by scabs.

Gander is, of course, the same community made famous by the broadway musical "Come From Away," celebrating the town that opened its homes and hearts after 9/11, welcoming hundreds of stranded American travellers.

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It's completely disgusting that a company can forget this hospitality and get away with inflicting so much damage on hard working families and their communities out of sheer greed, and with the full protection of the law.

The fact that both D-J and Compass are American companies, importing the heavy-handed tactics of the United States, where labour is in full retreat, to this country is disturbing.

As the people of Goderich showed, that sort of behaviour will not be tolerated in Canada. Not now, not ever.

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