Simon Ouellette | CUPE Communications

As most of the country’s labour negotiations have slowed down due to the COVID-19 crisis, one New Brunswick employer is keeping its staff in locked out: the Chaleur Regional Service Commission (CRSC).

“The 23 members of our local working at the Red Pine Landfill in Allardville have been locked out since February 13, 2020, by the CRSC. All over a dispute about doctor’s notes for sick days,” said Serge Plourde, President of CUPE 4193, representing landfill workers.

“It’s not even about money, but control over workers,” he added.

The previous collective agreement states that a worker must produce a doctor’s note if sick leave extends beyond three days. Now, management is asking that the contract be changed to require a worker to produce a doctor’s note the very first day. When the bargaining team refused this concession, management walked away from the table and issued a lockout notice.

Lack of access to health care services

COVID-19 exposed the dangers of employers’ policies denying sick leave to workers. Sick employees working has resulted in outbreaks in some workplaces, endangering people’s health in many communities.

Access to physicians, like in many other jurisdictions in Canada, is limited in New Brunswick. Before COVID-19, Allardville and other rural areas suffered from a chronic shortage of doctors.

The New Brunswick Medical Society recognizes that physicians in New Brunswick are taking care of more patients than anywhere else in Canada. Half of the province’s family physicians have patient loads greater than 1,800, compared to the Canadian median of 1,400.

“The employer wants to force us to make the impossible choice between losing our job or providing for our family and going to work sick. I thought COVID-19 would show everyone the importance of health and safety at work. This goes against any common sense,” said Plourde.

Local solidarity and municipal elections

CUPE 4193 members have not been alone in these trying times. “We have received help from CUPE National and CUPE New Brunswick, other CUPE locals, local residents and more. Community support is key to maintain spirits, but it will also make a difference when municipal elections happen,” said Plourde.

As the CRSC is run by a board composed of local Chaleur mayors, CUPE members are impatient for the coming municipal elections. “Workers must mobilize in the election, so there is a political cost to treating people the way they have,” concluded Plourde.

CUPE 4193 is the only CUPE local currently on strike or locked out in all of Canada.