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‘It’s just a powder keg’: New Brunswick Labour Board finds laundry strike to be illegal

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The New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board has ruled that a work stoppage that began on Wednesday at Saint John Laundry is an illegal strike. Andrew Cromwell has more. – Oct 18, 2019

The New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board has ruled that a work stoppage that began on Wednesday at Saint John Laundry is an illegal strike.

The board’s ruling came down on Friday after a complaint was filed by the New Brunswick government, which operates the organization through Service New Brunswick.

Saint John Laundry, previously known as Fundy Linen, provides laundry service to hospitals and nursing homes in the province.

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The complaint alleged that the unionized workers — many of whom are members of CUPE — walked off the job while still under a collective agreement.

The New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board (NBLEB) has ordered, among other things, that the illegal strike must cease immediately.

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In a statement, the minister in charge of Service New Brunswick, Sherry Wilson, said the province was pleased with the ruling.

“It is important that we return to full production today. If we do not, certain functions, such as hospital clinics, would be impacted,” said Wilson.

“The government is committed to resolving the issues that led to the illegal walkout. However, there will be consequences for those CUPE members who chose not to return to work.”

The NBLEB ruling says that any employee who continues to engage in illegal strike activity is subject to a daily charge of $100.

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How did New Brunswick get here?

The latest incident began on Wednesday morning after workers left the job to protest how they were being treated.

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Cindy Johnson, president of CUPE 1251 at Saint John Laundry and Ed Jennings, shop steward with CUPE 1190, say they decided to be literal whistleblowers when they saw incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying.

“We’ll blow a whistle when they’re doing these things,” Jennings said. “At that point, we were told basically to leave the building.”

Other workers followed when they learned of the situation.

Police were called to the location and a presence was maintained, but no arrests were made.

“We feel we’ve been harassed, we’ve been bullied, health and safety issues that we don’t feel are properly addressed,” explained Jennings. “It’s just an ongoing, very very…it’s a horrible work environment”

Both Jennings and Johnson say they have been told not to return to work.

“We’re there for the customers, we’re there to get our quality of linen out,” said Johnson.

“That’s why we showed up. We thought we would be working today.”

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Service New Brunswick spokesperson Valerie Kilfoil said the province can’t discuss matters pertaining to individual employees and confirmed that because there were no employees at the facility, the province was forced to send laundry out to Ottawa to be cleaned.

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Kilfopil said two loads were sent out of province every day between Tuesday and Friday. An additional load of laundry is set to go out on Sunday and Monday.

The government says it has invested $27 million into the state-of-the-art facility and said that it was meant to be a celebratory first week of production before the strike action occured.

Meanwhile, workers hope the incidents of the past few days will lead to changes.

“We’re all fed up in this building,” Jennings said.

“We can’t tolerate it anymore and it’s just a powder keg.”

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