Striking landfill workers ‘aggravated’ to see replacement workers choppered-in

Striking Clean Harbors employees picketing outside the company's Corunna site. 25 November 2021. (SarniaNewsToday.ca photo)

A few dozen striking workers at Clean Harbors landfill in St. Clair Township were back on the picket line Thursday morning.

The 76 workers at the site represented by Unifor Local 914 began the strike action at 12:01 a.m. Monday — gender equality and the erosion of seniority are a few key issues they’re fighting for.

National Rep. Gary Lynch said after seeing the company helicopter-in replacement workers on Wednesday, he’s not optimistic the dispute will be resolved anytime soon.

“Unifor has taken the stance that the company — with flying in helicopters as of yesterday — is trying to send a message that this is now a dispute over monies and who has the most money to spend, and not what’s in the best interest being our members and their employees.”

Lynch said he’s looking at the use of the helicopter as a hazard.

“What goes in that landfill needs to be covered. They’re landing near the talc site, which they have stockpiled waste there, and now that’s become airborne.  Everybody in hell’s radius there is going to be exposed to terrible, toxic stuff.  Now, I’m going to go bang on every single farmer’s door and let them know that their children could be exposed.”

Lynch said the striking workers could see plumes of dust in the air every time the helicopters landed.  Process Operator Derek Roehler said it was aggravating to see the chopper touch down four times on Wednesday.

“I’ve been here six years.  We’re all trained — you’re trained in what you do, and we don’t bake cookies here, we’re in a hazardous waste environment,” said Roehler.  “It’s a very dangerous environment and I hope that the other people that are coming in are trained to do the job.”

Roehler said he wants to go back to work, but he feels the dispute is going to go on for a lot longer than they all want it to.

“We’re out here basically for our quality in workforce, seniority, safety, and wage always falls into that but we’re not asking for a lot here,” said Roehler.

Lynch also mentioned how the 10 to 12 female employees on strike aren’t being treated fairly by the company.

“We have female individuals that have been skipped over for job progression, which it’s clearly spelled out in the CBA.  The company’s been fighting with the union over — ‘Ah, we don’t feel she’s qualified,’ but you hired her.  You brought her in on an entry level, her seniority takes her to the next progression and you’re saying ‘no’ and hired outside the unit and brought somebody else in.”

Lynch said the women are not brought on to be just janitors and be stuck at the very lowest pay scale, adding that it’s 2021 and time for the company to get with it.

“The line of communication is open.  Let’s get back to the table and let’s get these members and people a deal.  We’re talking hazard environment, hazard chemicals, toxic waste — let’s not mess around with this.”

On Friday, Clean Harbors HR Director Brandy McGrath told Sarnia News Today that the company has negotiated diligently and in good faith to reach a renewal collective agreement for the past several weeks.

“The parties have been assisted by a federally appointed conciliation officer throughout negotiations in an effort to complete the process in a fair manner,” said McGrath.  “We are continuing to operate the plant safely while the strike is going on and until negations are completed.  Costumers should continue to rely on us at that location.”

McGrath said the company values its union workers and hopes to come to an amicable settlement in the near future.

The last collective bargaining agreement expired on April 29, 2021.