By Gerard Di Trolio
Right now, scabs are the secret ingredient in Covered Bridge Potato Chips made near Hartland, New Brunswick.
Workers are seeking their first collective agreement with Covered Bridge after voting to unionize in December 2013. Covered Bridge President Ryan Albright told the CBC in a statement that the the strike was just a “a small bump in the road,” but Albright has spent two years refusing to bargain in a bid to break the union.
In August 2015, the New Brunswick Employment and Labour Board ruled that Covered Bridge management had attempted to coerce workers to give up their union, and ruled against Albright’s attempts to terminate bargaining. Under the New Brunswick Industrial Relations Act, an employer cannot influence how their workers vote on union related issues. This ruling has not phased management’s goal of getting rid of the union.
At a June 23 2015 meeting involving a mediator, Albright told UFCW 1288P representative Carl Flanagan, “screw you and your fucking union.” Albright went on to say that workers would make no gains in a “union environment.”
But workers at Covered Bridge have many reasons why they want to stick with the union.
“When it comes to seniority, people are not being treated fairly,” says Betty Demerchant a striking worker at Covered Bridge. “Some of the senior workers are being laid off and they’re bringing somebody else in. That’s not fair to the workers.”
“The wage is only minimum wage. I’ve been here almost five years, and that’s all I’m getting – $10.30,” she said.
Demerchant was making $10.10 per hour per prior to the raising of the raising of the minimum wage to $10.30 from $10 at the end of 2014. Demerchant then found herself only making the new minimum wage.
The union’s demands at the bargaining table are straightforward.
“We’re asking for job security, higher wages, safety improvements, and water on the [factory] floor like fountains,” says Demerchant.
Albright has not ruled out these concessions. The existence of the union at Covered Bridge is the main issue. “He [Albright] told us that whatever we’re asking for, he’d give us but not under the union environment,” Demerchant says.
Despite this huge gap between the two parties, Demerchant and the other strikers are in good spirits. “We don’t mind being out here with the weather and everything. We’re out here because we believe in what we’re fighting for and it is going to help our future,” she says.
Covered Bridge is saying that there are only ten out of 34 workers on the picket line and the number of employers earning minimum wage is lower than the union claims.
Flanagan believes that workers who have crossed the picket line are concerned about Albright’s claim that he will allow none of the striking workers to return to Covered Bridge.
Disputing the company’s claims, Flanagan told the Halifax Media Co-op that there are more than ten workers on the picket line and that there are 32 to 40 workers in the bargaining group (depending on how many management has hired during the strike) earning minimum wage.
With the Covered Bridge factory located on a dead end street on the outskirts of Hartland, a town of 947, UFCW is counting on their boycott campaign to tip things in favour of the striking workers. They are asking everyone to boycott Covered Bridge Potato Chips until the first collective agreement has been ratified.
You can find out more about UFCW 1288P’s boycott campaign here.