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strikeDear Editor

Along the shoreline of Lake Huron and inland from there the Grey Bruce Labour Council and Huron Labour Council have worked to be the voice of workers for over sixty years. Labour Councils work diligently to make sure that workers and unions have a voice  and have a place to come together and seek support in good and bad times. There is perhaps no time more critical for this support than during strike situations. At this very moment two strikes now in excess of six weeks in length are underway within the confines of Grey-Bruce and Huron.

The workers on the picket lines, OPSEU 276, and Unifor 16-0 in Grey -Bruce and Huron, have endured for a very long time. They are in a fight that they did not want or ask for. Both employers have been extremely intransigent and have failed to meet in meaningful negotiations to bring about a fair and reasonable settlement. Although one would think that failing to meet with the union representation would be insult enough, the employer's choice to bring in replacement workers or "scabs" is a profound insult to the workers and to the communities.

Now, for those that are confused about replacement workers or scabs, let's be clear on what they do. Workers and their union representatives have met with the employer to try and negotiate a fair deal. This has been done over considerable time with worker input on what the main issues are, and, in the end, workers have the final say on any tentative deal with the employer. When, for whatever reason, the workers use the one tool they have to bargain with-their labour-and withdraw this labour it is with full knowledge that the upcoming hardships with no pay and with the employer being without its labour force will be arduous. The anticipated outcome is that this puts enough pressure on people to get back to the negotiating table. Enter the scab. The employer, rather than working hard to find the elusive deal, pulls in people to do the work of those on the picket line.

There is no point lower for the employer as they have now told the strikers and the community that they have nothing but contempt for both. The immediate outcome is a schism in the community and a permanent split in the worker-employer relationship. No matter the final outcome of the dispute, trust in the employer is never fully restored. Scabs undermine the pressure that the workers can put on the employer, they extend the strike and have no loyalty other than to the opportunity to make money while those involved in a legal and legitimate labour action spend longer on the picket line without an agreement and without a paycheque.

Labour Councils and Organized Labour in general have called for legislation that prohibits the use replacement workers. Some articles and publications have suggested that anti-scab legislation has little effect on the duration of labour disputes. It seems much more probable that if the parties are forced together sooner rather than later, as scabs are not permitted, that there is a much stronger likelihood of a shorter dispute. In the broader sense, keeping replacement workers out of a dispute aids in the healing of the worker-employer relationship after the strike and prevents long term resentment in the community.

Perhaps there is one plus when the employer brings in scabs. The use of scabs will bring the workers together faster than anything the employer may do. In addition, this action is likely to bring broad support from the affected communities to those on the picket line.

As we look at what is going in Owen Sound and Goderich the time for provincial and national legislation that finally ends the use of replacement workers forever is here. Ontario had anti-scab legislation in the early 1990's, but successive Liberal and Conservative governments did not continue this support as they lack the will to say that workers are worthy of the respect that fair and reasonable negotiation between the parties in the workplace demonstrates. Enacting and entrenching such legislation is not ground-breaking and has existed in a variety of jurisdictions for many years.

Both Grey-Bruce and Huron Labour Councils are active in supporting the workers in the two strikes and as tough as this will be, will work diligently with our partners to bring anti-scab legislation back on the legislative agenda.

Dave Trumble

VP Grey Bruce Labour Council

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