Nearly half of the 23 locked out workers at Ocean Concrete were on the line Wednesday in front of the company’s Bay Street entrance, waving at passing motorists.
The employees, union members of Unifor Local 114, were locked out by the company as of 6 p.m. on April 30. The union and employer are at an impasse as they try to reach an agreement on a contract to replace one that expired early in 2020. The affected workers include 15 drivers, seven dispatch/mixers and a maintenance staffer.
Unifor national representative Jim Dixon said the company is offering small wage increases to the group for 2021 and 2022, but is seeking major cost concessions relating to benefits and pensions that would mean a net loss of compensation for employees.
Jeff Sieg, director of corporate communications for Lehigh Hanson, the Texas-based company which owns Ocean Concrete, acknowledged the impasse and the disagreement on some issues during negotiations.
“The company has negotiated in good faith and will continue to do so with an objective to have a final contract that is fair and mutually agreeable to the company and the union,” he said in an email to Black Press Media.
Dixon said the concrete industry does not appear to have been hit hard by the pandemic, noting that these skilled workers are in demand around the region with the amount of construction activity happening.
On the ground in Victoria, union spokesperson Jim Sadlemyer said in a release that the company has made a “serious miscalculation” that will only harm its profits.
“Locking out Local 114 members will do nothing to shake our resolve in getting a fair contract,” he said. “The only thing a lockout will do is drive customers to Ocean Concrete’s competitors.”
The two sides met Tuesday but no new talks have been scheduled, Dixon said. The members took a strike vote in April and voted 100 per cent in favour, he added, but the union believed that was just part of the process of getting back to the table.
Ocean Concrete has been operating in Victoria under various names, including Ocean Cement, since 1912.
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