UFCW 401 Hits Back at Civeo

Dear Local 401 Wapasu Union Member,

I’m writing to express my dismay and concern regarding the ridiculous circumstances that you are now facing. I must say that I am appalled and shocked by Civeo’s callous attempts to gut your terms and conditions of employment on threat of job loss.

Secretary Treasurer Stewart and myself personally scrutinize and review this matter frequently. As a former member of the Labour Relations Board for over 10 years, I myself have reviewed the facts around this matter and I personally gave instructions to retain the preeminent labour law firm in Alberta to advance your cause. I spoke with lawyers there last week and on my instructions, they have crafted a legal action against Civeo / Wapasu management.

The legal action is essentially comprised of two parts. One part revolves around the legal concepts of “successorship” and “common employer”. This part of the application is intended to ensure that those who make decisions about your employment are ultimately accountable for their actions.

The second part of the application relates to something called an “Unfair Labour Practice”. We are arguing that, as Civeo is locked into a collective agreement, the threats that they have uttered constitute an attempt at an illegal lockout. Just as we are not allowed to strike during a collective agreement, they are not allowed to lock you out. A lockout is essentially a refusal to employ workers on threat of job denial in order to achieve preferential terms and conditions of employment for the Employer.

It would seem as though that’s exactly what Civeo is attempting to improperly do.

We are also arguing that Civeo is interfering with important representational rights. It is an obvious attempt to undermine your solidarity and your union. The threat of job loss in these circumstances has a profound effect on your mental health and creates significant anxiety, inevitably resulting in all sorts of argument and infighting.

This “divide and conquer” strategy is intended to do exactly that. Civeo wants to weaken your union because that weakens you and your ability to fight back.

I am providing a copy of our action at the Labour Relations Board. Please click here to review it. Further, I also wish to advise that our unfair labour practice is accompanied by a recently filed grievance. It laminates our viewpoint and alleges the collective agreement itself has been violated. You can see the grievance by clicking here.

Our legal strategy is accompanied by a potential “action strategy”. We have surveyed you with respect to any initiatives you might be willing to participate in to buttress and accompany our legal action. We are currently considering which of those would be legal, realistic, and viable.

There is some media interest in this story and I recently did an interview with Fort McMurray Today. Unfortunately, media interest can be nominal and fickle. It can be an effective pressure strategy, but there are many external variables that can be limiting factors.

At the Cargill meatpacking plant in High River, an aggressive media strategy was very effective in pressuring the Company into closing the Plant in the face of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in North America, saving lives and significantly mitigating the suffering of our members there. For a period of time, I was on the national news virtually every night and even in global print media. However, the timing and nature of those circumstances were such that media interest was highly augmented.

In other words, we were able to take advantage of profound media interest rather than create it, per se.
When asked about whether or not we should approach Civeo to try to negotiate something better than their ridiculous concessionary demands, our membership survey reveals a division of opinion. 60% of Civeo members at Wapasu want us to stand strong, while 40% appear to be in favour of some sort of negotiation. On those numbers, I do not see our union as having the authority to approach Civeo to negotiate and we will not do so.

Opinions may shift with changing circumstances and it will be interesting to see how our legal action plays out at the Labour Relations Board. The Board has the authority to ensure that your rights are protected, but some worry that the tone and flavour of UCP politics could impact, and work against, our union’s pro-worker arguments.

I can assure you that Local 401 is utilizing every resource that we can to protect your interests. As I have noted, Richelle and I have “eyes on” this matter. Our executive staff continue to do everything they can. Our communications staff are continuously strategizing. Our walking stewards, labour relations officers, and Executive Board are staring this down. Finally, and above all, I am optimistic that the power of the union is vested in the hands of union members themselves. Our communication with you reveals that you are angry, passionate, and ready to act and push back.

That’s a good thing.

Finally, let me take this opportunity on behalf of our Executive Board to wish you the happiest possible holiday, even in this time of tension and anxiety. Again, please be assured of our commitment to help in the spirit of solidarity and goodwill.

In our union, every member matters.
In Solidarity,
Thomas Hesse
UFCW Local 401