Support for Striking Salt Workers From Pugwash, Nova Scotia
Empower Yourself Now spoke with a worker in Pugwash, Nova Scotia with first-hand experience of what Stone Canyon Industries Holdings Inc., the owners of Windsor Salt, did to the Windsor Salt miners in Pugwash. The holding company bought Windsor Salt in 2021 at which time the Pugwash workers were bargaining a new collective agreement.
“From the time bargaining started it was clear the company had no intentions of actually negotiating although there was a lot of talking. From the start, the company had hired a U.S. anti-union firm Cozen O’Connor and brought in a known anti-union lawyer from Halifax and came to the union with demands for crazy concessions. Over the months of negotiations they backed off a few but at the end of the day still had plenty. They never really wanted to deal with any issues the union had.
“Right from the start the union just wanted someone in the company to actually hear their concerns. The union could not understand the company’s actions as their asks were not out of this world. So they finally got their corporate lawyer from the U.S. to come in and change tone and ‘listen’, but still nothing changed. They had their agenda, which seemed to be to cause a strike and try to break the union as much as they could, no matter the cost.
“They spent millions of dollars trying to intimidate — bringing bulk salt in by boat from their other mines to Halifax and Summerside, PEI to show the workers that they did not need Pugwash salt. They also installed fencing and cameras all around the site, and trained company people to do essential union jobs. Along with violating labour law by sending the members letters about their proposals, how fair they were, and basically how the union executive were lying to the workers.
“The strike at Pugwash in the end only lasted for 2 weeks. The reason for this is not because the workers got what they needed, but because a couple days after they rejected the company’s offer and went out, the company sent everyone an intimidating letter that their offer was still good for 2 weeks and after that it would get worse. This intimidated enough people and they went around the union and asked to vote on the original agreement again and it passed.
“As for concessions, the existing contract didn’t have great language around contracting out, so there wasn’t much to take there compared to what the union in Windsor [Ontario] has. They already get maintenance contractors all the time and have them doing other work from time to time that used to be union work. The new contract is full of little language changes that essentially take away rights around time-off, cancellation of shifts etc. In other words, there wasn’t really one huge thing that they were taking like the contracting out in Windsor. A big concession the company took though was they didn’t pay retro pay and removed this language from the agreement. Some other concessions were that they made it so people can waive any vacation over the minimum labour law… which reduces workforce. They also combined some job classifications, which has led to job eliminations.”
“I hope that this will help the workers in Windsor and we are following what happens there with interest.”
(This article was updated March 21, 2023)