Locked out Reliance workers hopeful for fair deal

Workers locked out at Reliance Home Comfort on Confederation Street in Sarnia. (From left to right) Plumber Shawn Thomson, Senior Installer Kyle Eades, HVAC Technician Tim Terpstra, HVAC Service Technician Leland Lockrey and Water Heater Installer Dan Douglas. May 19, 2021 Photo by Melanie Irwin

Unionized workers are hoping that rising temperatures will put some heat on Reliance Home Comfort to return to the bargaining table.

Unifor Local 1999 President James Tauvette said members remain on the picket line after being locked out at 12:01 a.m. on May 13.

“Up to the lockout, we had a tentative agreement with the company and the membership rejected it,” he said. “We went back to the company for talks and the company said ‘this is all we have.'”

He said the union did specify what they would like to see in order to come to an agreement. As of Wednesday evening, Tauvette said the union has not heard from the company.

He said the major sticking point in regards to the labour disruption revolves around sick leave, especially since workers have been in contact with members of the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[The workers] have three sick days per year … if they have to use those days, there’s a lapse between the end of their sick days and the start of their short-term disability,” he said. “If they go in and have to have another test done, they have no coverage at all.”

Tauvette said cost-sharing benefits for “second-tier people” is also an issue the union would like to see addressed.

“Some of the members can’t afford the cost of the benefits so if it’s a family of three or four, the cost becomes outrageous. They either choose to feed their families or have benefits, obviously they’re going to choose to feed their family,” said Tauvette.

The lockout affects 28 Reliance workers in Sarnia and seven in Chatham-Kent.

At this point, Tauvette said members are just trying to keep morale up.

Temperatures have been steadily rising and are expected to stay in the mid to high 20s this week. Environment Canada’s forecast shows a high of 30 C on Thursday with a humidex of 32. With the nice weather, Tauvette said possible customer delays could put some pressure on Reliance to return with another offer.

“Back in 2012, when we went on strike and went back [to work] it was somewhat backed up after about two weeks,” he said. “So I would imagine that there would be some pressure on them.”

Unifor Local 1999 represents HVAC service technicians, installers, water heater installers, plumbers, electricians, and administration staff at 13 locations across the province.