N.L. union head ‘disgusted’ after she says police threatened to arrest workers

A man holds a Unifor flag during a rally at the Co-op Refinery in Regina on Tuesday January 21, 2020.
A man holds a Unifor flag during a rally at the Co-op Refinery in Regina on Tuesday January 21, 2020. Michael Bell / The Canadian Press

A union head says she’s disgusted after police allegedly threatened to arrest Dominion workers on a picket line outside the Weston Foods bakery Tuesday night near St. John’s.

Unifor Local 597 president Carolyn Wrice said about 40 workers were blocking trucks outside the bakery when roughly 20 Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers arrived.

“It was police everywhere, roads were blocked, it was crazy. And it was a peaceful picket line,” Wrice said in an interview Wednesday. “My question is, who initiated this attack … on the workers? Who initiated this attack on a peaceful picket line?”

Const. James Cadigan said Wednesday the officers were from a “highly trained unit” deployed in situations requiring “de-escalation.” He could not confirm how many officers were on site, but said police responded to complaints from small businesses and organizations that were concerned about the disruption.

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Dominion workers in Newfoundland and Labrador went on strike in late August after rejecting a contract offer from parent company Loblaws Inc., which included a $1-an-hour pay increase spread over three years. Weston Foods is a subsidiary of George Weston Ltd., which owns Loblaws.

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Wrice said workers had been blocking the trucks outside the Weston Foods bakery for two days in an effort to get Loblaws back to the bargaining table. On Wednesday evening, the union announced negotiations were scheduled to resume Thursday.

Wrice said police had no right to interfere with Tuesday night’s picket line because Loblaws had not received a court order preventing workers from picketing that location.

The officers threatened to make arrests before the workers left peacefully to demonstrate at a nearby building, Wrice said. The trucks were then able to leave the parking lot.

Cadigan would not confirm if officers threatened to arrest the workers but said police spoke to the union leaders on site about the “parameters of the Criminal Code.” Blocking a public passageway is a criminal offence, Cadigan said, adding that RNC officers “outlined” that fact to the striking workers Tuesday night.

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Cadigan said he was “appreciative” the situation was resolved peacefully and respectfully.

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In a news release Wednesday, provincial NDP Leader Alison Coffin said the RNC response was “an unnecessary use of force,” which put the “right of workers in this province in jeopardy.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2020.