Hundreds of lodge workers in Fort McMurray face layoff after rejecting pay cut, union says

Angela Fiddler is unsure how she will be able to afford to feed her husband, who has terminal cancer, after he was made redundant last week – five months after voting against a pay cut.

Fiddler is one of about 300 workers at Wapasu Creek Lodge, north of Fort McMurray, Alta., who are at risk of being laid off.

The 5,174-room lodge is owned by Civeo and primarily houses Imperial Oil staff who work locally in the area.

Angela Fiddler is also Chair of the Wapasu Indigenous Nations Committee at Wapasu Creek Lodge. (Submitted by Angela Fiddler)

Fiddler has worked at the lodge for more than 13 years, spending all but six days away from family in Saskatchewan.

“[My husband] hasn’t been able to work since November, so it’s all up to me… Now that they’re taking my job away from me, I don’t know what I’m going to do, how I’m going to take care of him,” Violoneux said.

“I ran the housekeeping department with everything I had. That they demand it’s not enough, that they want my money… I don’t agree with that.”

Chris O’Hallowan, executive director of their union, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401, says the workers are under contract with the union until the end of this year.

But in November, he says, Civeo came to the union and demanded cuts in wages, benefits and more.

“What they said was if you don’t make concessions and take the rollbacks, we’re going to fire you and replace you with someone else,” O said. ‘Halloran.

Union members voted more than 90% to reject Civeo’s offer, he said.

Then last week, the company emailed layoff notices to about 300 employees, he says. Their last day is June 8.

“Throwing Albertans out of work for no reason is completely unacceptable,” O’Halloran said.

Civeo and Imperial Oil did not respond to CBC requests for comment.

“They are breaking our treaties”

For Fiddler, it feels like deja vu. She says a few years ago the company demanded pay cuts – but last time the workers agreed. They were too afraid of losing their jobs and thought they would be reimbursed when oil prices went up.

“We are all upset. We remember what happened a few years ago and what they did,” she said.

She also mentions an impact and benefit agreement signed by Civeo – a contract which she says stipulates that the company must hire a certain percentage of indigenous workers, because they use traditional lands.

“They’re breaking those contracts. They’re breaking our treaties. And it’s like a treaty — it’s the land between non-native lands and traditional lands,” Fiddler said.

“They’ve made millions and millions on Indigenous lands all this time, with no regard for Indigenous peoples, no regard for [impact benefit agreement].”

With less than two months until June 8, Fiddler says she is worried for all her colleagues who will soon have no income to pay their bills.

“It made them sick to their stomachs, not knowing what they were going to do.”

Working with the Labor Relations Board

Back at UFCW Local 401, O’Halloran says he wants the Alberta Labor Relations Board to resolve this issue.

“The labor board can look at that and make a decision. That’s what we’re asking the labor board at this point,” O’Halloran said.

A man stands in front of a CBC News microphone.  In the background, a poster reads "Why is Imperial Oil stealing $7 an hour from Albertans?"
Chris O’Halloran is the general manager of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Aaron Padnivelan, head of settlement for the Alberta Labor Relations Board, said the board had been in contact with the union since December — when they filed a complaint against Civeo for other reasons.

But after workers received their notices, he says the union stepped up by asking for a case management meeting for next week.

“The union is telling us now that they have a sense of urgency and have come to ask us to deal with this emergency next week,” Padnivelan said.

He says he won’t know the details of their request until the meeting.

The union also has hearings scheduled in June and August with the board, he says.

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