Angry demonstrations in New Brunswick target Alberta workers

Albertans, go home.

That's the message about 100 Alberta tradesmen got from furious locals in St. John, N.B., this week, who have been staging angry demonstrations against out-of-province workers.

It's gotten so bad that at least one of the local subcontractors, Calgary's Integral Energy Service, is bringing their employees back home to Alberta today until things cool down.

They arrived in the Maritimes hoping to spend three months building the massive Canaport liquid natural gas operation on the Bay of Fundy, but instead became political footballs tossed between out-of-work locals and the project's contractor, SNC Lavalin.

Edson's Alex Scott, 22, said when the crews arrived at the hotel that was to be their home for the next few months, they were greeted by hundreds of protesters screaming and carrying signs with slogans like "New Brunswick Jobs For New Brunswick Workers!!!" and shouting "Whose streets? Our streets!"

Scott said the crowd was so menacing that the Albertans were afraid for their safety.

"We felt trapped," he said.

"Things are only going to get worse before they get better," Toni Edgett, one of the protesters, said today as he prepared to head out for an evening of xenophobic demonstrations. "We got lotsa manpower."

Edgett, who has a job as a pipefitter, had earlier told the St. John media that "these guys are coming from out West and taking our jobs while our guys are collecting unemployment and sitting on welfare. They're evil. They want to take everything they can get their hands on and they don't care who they hurt in the meantime."

Today, the protesters were slapped with a court injunction forbidding them to come within 500 metres of the Hotel Courtenay Bay, where the Albertans and other out-of-province workers had been staying.
The St. John Police Force's riot squad was reportedly on stand-by.
"It certainly is escalating," said St. John East Liberal MLA Roly MacIntyre, in whose riding are both the hotel and the project.

MacIntyre, the former provincial labour minister, is mystified by the situation because out-of-province workers are nothing new in New Brunswick. Besides, he says, there are far more New Brunswickers working in Alberta than there are Albertans down east.

But what's unique in the Canaport case, he said, is that local tradespeople are being laid off and replaced with out-of-province workers.

"SNC Lavalin is really shaking the tree here," he said. "Legally, there's nothing the provincial government can do right now. There's an underlying issue here, but nobody has said what it is."

The head of the Alberta Federation of Labour thinks he knows what's at the root of the protesters' anger.

Some of the Albertan workers are members of the Christian Labour Association of Canada, which groups like the federation argue isn't a legitimate union.

"If this is a protest against CLAC, it puts an entirely different complexion on the protest," he said. "CLAC is an employer-designed, union-avoiding strategy."

He said CLAC negotiates "sweetheart agreements" with employers so legitimate unions are shut out of their worksites.

CLAC spokesman Alex Pannu said it is legitimate, but he agreed that they're being targeted.

"I don't necessarily believe that these are just a bunch of unorganized workers that coalesced at 5:30 a.m. and had a bunch of signs made up attacking our union, including the very same wording that they've used in other anti-CLAC campaigns."

But, he added, "the issue is the contractor, SNC Lavalin, decided to subcontract. And it so happens that the subcontractor brought some workers in from Alberta. It's unfortunate that some local workers weren't hired, but that's not the issue of the guys in that hotel. They're just there to do a job."

Edmonton Sun, Thurs Sept 17 2009
Byline: Andrew Hanon

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